Virgin Atlantic Could Purchase A330neos – Why Would This Be Good?

Virgin Atlantic could be looking to purchase A330neos for their fleet. Reports suggest the UK airline is looking at between six and 10 of the Airbus aircraft to add to their current lineup and enable retirement of some of their older planes.

Virgin A330-200
Virgin already operate some A330s, of the -200 and -300 variants. Photo: Virgin

Reporting from Reuters suggests that Airbus are close to securing a deal with Virgin Atlantic for a number of A330neos. Their sources say that the A330neo is under consideration alongside the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

According to the report, Virgin Atlantic could be on the verge of ordering six to ten new aircraft as part of their fleet renewal plans. While these are no more than rumors just now, Reuters has a habit of getting good inside information ahead of the crowd, so we fully expect an announcement soon.

Why would Virgin Atlantic consider A330neos?

Virgin Atlantic currently operate a somewhat mixed fleet. According to Wikipedia, they have four Airbus A330-200s, eight A330-300s, five A340-600s, eight Boeing 747-400s and 17 Boeing 787-9s.

Virgin Atlantic 747
Virgin could be looking at A330neos to enable retirement of their 747s. Photo: Joao Carlos Medau via Flickr

Within their fleet, their A340-600s and Boeing 747s are coming up to requiring renewal. While the airline does have 12 A350-1000s on order (with that amazing new upper class product on board), these would not fully replace the seating capacity lost by retiring their A340s and 747s. As an airline which is clearly looking to expand, cutting capacity is not something that we’d imagine is on their radar.

An additional order of between six and ten A330neos would certainly replace this lost capacity, and potentially add some too. It could even open the door to retirement of some of their older A330s, which at around 10 years old are by no means ‘past it’, but not the most modern of aircraft either.

Airbus A330neo
The A330neo offers interesting options for Virgin. Photo: Wikimedia

The A330neo is an interesting aircraft, and Airbus have already pegged it as a firm contender to Boeing’s forthcoming NMA plane, the ‘797’. With around 250 seats and excellent range capabilities, it’s the ideal choice for longer, thinner routes, giving Virgin the ability to expand into point to point services as opposed to their current mainly hub and spoke model.

This is something we’ve seen clearly with Emirates, who have ordered 40 Airbus A330neos as part of their fleet shakeup to give them more point to point potential. Virgin are in the midst of a massive investment project at Manchester Airport in the UK, which is very much a point to point destination, so an order of A330neos could be exciting to see.

The A330 vs the Dreamliner

It seems that the British airline is weighing up their operations between the A330neo and the 787 Dreamliner. Their current fleet includes 17 787-9s as well as 12 A330’s split between the -200 and -300 variant. As such, neither would truly be a ‘new’ aircraft to the fleet, and they’d already have a lot in place in the way of pilot training and maintenance support.

With the Dreamliner already in operation, some might say ‘why not just get more of the same’. After all, its capacity, range and passenger comforts are very similar, and they’re already fully equipped to deal with them.

Virgin Dreamliner
Virgin already operate 17 Dreamliners. Photo: Virgin

However, several of Virgin’s Dreamliners have been grounded for weeks following engine issues with the Rolls Royce Trent 1000s. The airline is currently leasing some of Air Berlin’s former A330-200s to replace this lost capacity. Perhaps this experience has made them fall out of love with the Boeing plane?

At the end of the day, the decision will come down to the crucial factor of finance. While the 787-9s list price is $292.5m, the A330-800neo comes in at just $259.9m. While we understand airlines rarely pay list price for any aircraft, starting out $32m cheaper is a good place to be. However, the -800 variant hasn’t proven to be particularly popular, and if Virgin are looking at the -900, the list price is on a par with the Dreamliner at $296.4m.

It’s going to depend what discounts are offered. Virgin are very closely allied with Delta, who are an Airbus only airline. They’ve also ordered the A330neo and may have some sway with Airbus to press for even better discounts for Virgin.

What do you think? Will the A330neo be a good investment for Virgin, or should they stick with the Dreamliner?