Virgin Atlantic intends to exercise its Boeing 787-9 options and is looking at the -10 variant as a potential replacement for leased London Gatwick-based 747s.
Firming of the airline's four -9 options would bring its 787 fleet to 21 aircraft by the end of 2018, notes chief executive Craig Kreeger. "We have not exercised those last four options but we are communicating very clearly that we plan to," he says.
Kreeger also discloses that a follow-on order for the largest 787 variant, the -10, is being considered as the airline proceeds toward a decision on how to adapt its fleet after leases on seven Gatwick-based 747s expire in 2019.
While the -10, with 323 seats, is smaller than other candidate aircraft, the 777 and Airbus A350, it offers the advantage of fleet commonality and the attendant efficiency in pilot training among other areas, he notes.
Virgin is set to put its first 787-9 into revenue service tomorrow, flying the aircraft to Boston. The airline is the first in Europe to operate the variant.
The second of the 17 firmly ordered 787s – which are replacing A340s and London Heathrow-based 747s – will enter service with Virgin by year-end.
Washington DC, Newark and New York JFK have been earmarked as the carrier's next 787 destinations, after Boston. Kreeger says the plan is to "stay on the East Coast in the early days as we build up our number of pilots who have done many landings on that airplane".
But while the 787 is flying to "places that are shorter-haul – for Virgin Atlantic – for the first several months", Kreeger stresses that "it will move", noting that "it’s a great airplane for places like Hong Kong, places like Johannesburg".
He adds: "The aircraft is a great airplane from an economic perspective in any route that we fly it; it’s a particularly good airplane the longer you fly it, where the benefits and fuel savings get bigger. So the West Coast of the US and Asia are two great examples"
But as "a great product" the 787 will be "very valued" in any markets "that have a good amount of upper-class demand, particularly", suggests Kreeger.
Virgin's 787s will make up almost 60% of its aircraft inventory by the end of 2018. Today, the in-service long-haul fleet comprises 10 A330s, 15 A340s, 12 747s and one 787, Flightglobal's Ascend Fleets database shows.