The Evolution Of Virgin Atlantic’s Fleet

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There’s been a fairly big focus on Virgin Atlantic’s fleet as of late. The airline is looking to rightsize its fleet as it comes to terms with IATA’s forecast of reduced demand until 2024. This has seen it retire aircraft while also taking new planes.

Virgin 747
Virgin Atlantic’s first aircraft was a Boeing 747, seen here arriving at London Heathrow for the first time. Photo: Getty Images

This year, Virgin Atlantic turned 36 years old. However, its special day couldn’t have come at a worse time. The British long-haul carrier announced that it would be scrapping its original London Gatwick base in favor of London’s Heathrow Airport. However, the current situation has also meant massive changes to the airline’s fleet. Let’s find out more.

Past aircraft

The Virgin Atlantic story starts with the Boeing 747. For the past 36 years, the Queen of the Skies has played a role in the airline’s fleet. It began with G-VIRG, the airline’s first Boeing 747-200. Aptly named Maiden Voyager, the aircraft remained with Virgin for 17 years until 2001. In its time, Virgin has operated 30 different 747s, according to Planespotters.net. However, the type’s time has now come to an end.

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Except for one Boeing 767 briefly leased from Martinair, the only other now withdrawn aircraft types operated by Virgin Atlantic are Airbus models. Earlier this year, we saw the airline bid farewell to its last Airbus A340, which has since been carrying cargo to the UK from China. In total, the airline flew 29 A340s.

Virgin Atlantic, History, 36 Years
Little Red was a short-lived domestic endeavor. Photo: Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic also used to operate some of the smaller Airbus aircraft when it was attempting to break into the domestic connection market with Little Red. However, this project was short-lived.

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Present aircraft

Fast forward to today, and Virgin has switched to an all twin-engine fleet. The airline has 17 Boeing 787 aircraft. Earlier this year, Simple Flying reported that Virgin had returned its final Boeing 787 Dreamliner to service, following the Trent 1000 engine problems.

The airline has 14 Airbus A330 aircraft. This consists of ten -300s and four -200s. The -200s are now the oldest aircraft in the Virgin fleet and are the next aircraft that are due to be retired.

Virgin Atlantic, Relaunch, New Routes
The airline is currently taking delivery of its Airbus A350-1000 order. Photo: Getty Images

More recently, the Airbus A350-1000 has begun to join the Virgin Atlantic fleet. Last year the airline’s first of such aircraft was delivered, debuting Virgin’s new business class cabin. Since then, four further aircraft have been delivered. Most recently, a three-year-old A350-1000 joined the Virgin fleet yesterday.

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Future aircraft

Of course, the next logical step for our journey through the Virgin Atlantic fleet will be to look at the airline’s future fleet. As mentioned, in the coming years, the Airbus A330-200 is set to get the chop, significantly lowering the airline’s average fleet age.

Virgin Atlantic, Fleet, History
Virgin Atlantic is due to receive at least 14 A330neos. Photo: Airbus

The airline will continue to take delivery of the remainder of its Airbus A350-1000 order. However, new aircraft are also on the cards for the airline. At the Paris Air Show last year, Virgin Atlantic announced a firm order for 14 Airbus A330-900 neo aircraft. According to Airbus, at the time of the order, deliveries were due to start in 2021.

What is your favorite aircraft in the history of the Virgin Atlantic fleet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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