Will Virgin Australia launch its long-promised flights to Tokyo?

Japan is back on the international travel scene and airlines are stepping up flights between Australia and Tokyo to take advantage of the country reopening on October 11 without testing, quarantine or visas.

Qantas, partner Oneworld Japan Airlines and rival Star Alliance ANA are eager to rebuild their Tokyo schedule: more than 620,000 Australians visited Japan in 2019, a solid 12.6% increase on 2018 figures.

But what about Virgin Australia, whose Brisbane-Tokyo flights scheduled for early 2020 were first sabotaged by the global pandemic and then by the airline’s collapse the following month?

The flight was one of four approved between Australia and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport – the other three were awarded to Qantas, JAL and ANA – ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, on the condition that daily flights begin before March 31, 2020.

All these flights were of course canceled only a few weeks before their launch, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The International Air Services Commission (IASC) – which oversees Australia’s international air activity, including routes and airport take-off and landing slots – has repeatedly pushed back the start date of the “compulsory flight”. citing the “extraordinary circumstances” of the impact of Covid -19 and “travel restrictions put in place by the Australian Government since March 2020”.

Use it or lose it…

However, the IASC has now set March 26, 2023 as the “use it or lose it” deadline for Virgin flights to Tokyo Haneda.

“On June 29, 2022, Virgin Australia wrote to the Commission requesting a further extension of the capacity use date from October 30, 2022 to June 30, 2023,” takes note of the official decision of the IASC.

“In its letter, Virgin Australia has provided the Commission, in confidence, with its firm business plans to begin operating these services at the start of the Northern Summer 2023 season” which begins on March 26, 2023.

This is now the deadline for “capacity…to use”, says the IASC.

Approached for comments by Executive Travelera Virgin Australia spokesperson said: “Virgin Australia has retained its capacity allocation at Tokyo Haneda with the intention of commencing Australia-Japan services in the future.”

“We welcome the lifting of travel restrictions in Japan and are working closely on our plans as demand for leisure travel to and from Japan returns.”

But to start flying between Brisbane and Tokyo, Virgin will have to lease or buy planes with longer ranges than its Boeing 737s.

Bain Capital has ditched Virgin’s long-range Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s as part of a sweeping ‘rescue, downsize and restart’ plan that has seen the airline focus almost exclusively – and , no doubt, so far with great success – in the domestic market.

The IASC declined to comment on whether a “lease with services” deal with its partner ANA, which would see Virgin Australia lease both jets and cabin crew from ANA, would meet its requirements.

Long-haul flights far away?

Earlier in the month, Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO of Virgin Australia, said the carrier was reluctant to resume long-haul flights even as demand for international travel soared, as the airline braces for a bid. initial public next year.

“Anything we would do from a long-haul perspective would have a very high hurdle,” Hrdlicka said in an interview at a CAPA Center for Aviation conference in Adelaide.

“There is a lot of demand right now for long-haul flights and not enough capacity, but you have to plan for the long term. You don’t invest significant amounts of capital in planes to solve a moment in time . »

Hrdlicka predicts Virgin Australia will return to profit in the year to June 2023, setting the stage for a share sale – possibly next year – and at least a partial exit from the owner of the company. airline, the American takeover company Bain Capital.

After collapsing under a mountain of debt at the start of the pandemic, Virgin Australia is now focused on maintaining a third of the domestic passenger market and short-haul flights to destinations such as New Zealand.

“We are very focused on running the business and making sure we are in excellent shape for a potential listing,” Hrdlicka added.

Virgin’s former long-term fleet plan

In September 2021, a Virgin Australia spokesperson said Executive Traveler “We remain in discussion with aircraft manufacturers on a fleet strategy to support the reintroduction of widebody services when demand for long-haul international travel returns.”

Former Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah, who helped bring the airline out of administration in 2020 before Hrdlicka took over the baton, previously launched a ‘widebody fleet review’ in a bid to replacing the A330 and B777 with a single aircraft type – either the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 – citing “significant cost savings from next-generation aircraft”.

“We have done a lot of pre-administrative work to replace these two types of aircraft with a more efficient and newer version of a jumbo jet,” Scurrah explained during a press conference in August 2020.

“We are having discussions with the aircraft manufacturers but there will also be leasing opportunities for us, and it may be that we go directly to the final solution or that we have a temporary leasing solution,” he admitted then.

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