Virgin Australia plans 106-aircraft fleet by mid-2013

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Virgin Australia plans to grow its fleet by 17 aircraft over the next two and a half years as the carrier looks to challenge Qantas in the high-yield corporate market.

The rebranded airline, previously known as Virgin Blue Airlines, is re-aligning its domestic and international fleet operations and optimising aircraft mix

The carrier operated an 89-aircraft fleet at December 2010, including 63 Boeing 737NGs, five 777-300ERs and 21 Embraer 170/190s.

Over the three-year plan to June 2013, Virgin Australia plans to take delivery of 43 new aircraft but also retire 26 aircraft.

The carrier will take three additional Embraer 190s and eight ATR72-500/600s as well as five A330-200s and 27 Boeing 737NGs. In the meantime Virgin Australia will retire 20 Boeing 737NGs and six Embraer 170s.

At end of June 2013, its fleet will consist of 70 Boeing 737NGs, five 777-300ERs, 18 Embraer 190s, five A330-200s and eight ATR72s.

Virgin Australia says the rational behind the changes are the Qantas virtual monopoly on business and government travel.

Domestically, the carrier has expanded its Skywest codeshare in Western Australia growing 'fly-in fly out' market share. Its regional network will expand with the arrival of the new ATR72-500 in the coming weeks.

The carrier has also consolidated its long-haul network around two hubs: Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles, by implementing alliances with Etihad Airways and codeshare agreement with Hawaiian Airlines. It announced plans with Air New Zealand for a joint trans-Tasman network, effective for the upcoming northern winter schedule from November 2011 to March 2012.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has also approved joint venture plans between Virgin Australia and Delta Air Lines and both carrier say they aim to implement it immediately following final approval from the DOT.