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Virgin Australia to contest Qantas strike on Haneda slots

Virgin Australia will contest Qantas's application to take both new slots made available to Australian carriers at Tokyo Haneda airport despite being in the middle of a network and route review.

The airline issued a statement soon after the International Air Services Commission distributed an application by Qantas seeking the two new Haneda slots to allow it to start a daily Melbourne-Haneda service and increase its Sydney-Haneda flights to twice-daily from 29 March 2020.

That triggered an invitation by the Commission for other applications which will close by 24 September.

"Virgin Australia’s intended application for slots at Haneda Airport is extremely important to ensure there is competition in this market to bring choice and value for consumers, with lower airfares and more travel options to Japan," the airline says.

"The airline is focused on investing in the right routes that are commercially profitable and introducing Japan to its network will benefit the business, guests and the broader tourism industry."

Virgin says it will apply for one of the slots available, gave no other details on potential routes or the aircraft it would use to service the proposed Haneda route if it is successful.

Cirium schedules data shows that Qantas is the only Australian carrier to fly to Haneda, operating a daily service there from Sydney. The route is also flown by All Nippon Airways.

Virgin successfully contested Qantas's application for a deeper codeshare arrangement with Cathay Pacific on Australia-Hong Kong routes earlier this year, citing concerns that it would solidify the market presence of the two carriers on the routes.

Virgin has only two routes to north Asia, flying daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong using Airbus A330-200s. Nonetheless, the carrier already has Haneda in its offline network through a codeshare with Singapore Airlines' thrice-daily flights from Singapore.

The intended application comes as Virgin continues to work on a review of its network, fleet and capacity as part of a wider effort to overcome years of heavy losses.

The airline reported an underlying loss of A$75 million ($51 million) for the year to 30 June, driven in part by a A$75.6 million operating loss from its international unit.

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