Boeing 737s Down Under: The Virgin Australia Fleet In 2021

Virgin Australia’s fleet of Boeing 737s is steadily growing. After a substantial downsizing and a decision to become an all 737 airline in 2020, Virgin Australia is now rebuilding. With incoming jets in the pipeline, Virgin Australia is on track to become the biggest 737 operator in Australia.

Virgin Australia is steadily building up its Boeing 737 fleet. Photo: Virgin Australia

Despite plans for a downsized airline, Virgin Australia is steadily growing

According to airline database, Virgin Australia has 74 Boeing 737s in its fleet. That includes 72 Boeing 737-800s and a pair of Boeing 737-700s. Those two stray 737-700s are VH-VBY and VH-VBZ. Both are keeping busy flying out of their Brisbane base.

Before Virgin Australia called in the administrators in April 2020, the airline had 85 Boeing 737 aircraft. While the administrators went over the airline with a fine-tooth comb preparing it for resale, the fleet was downsized to 58 planes. The administrators also jettisoned all non-737 aircraft types.

After Virgin Australia’s successful sale, the new owners played down talk of any fleet expansion. However, over the past 12 months, there has been a series of announcements confirming batches of planes would return to the Virgin Australia fleet.

These planes weren’t new aircraft. Instead, Virgin Australia re-leased planes it formerly sent back to lessors – on much more favorable terms this time around. Along the way, Virgin Australia also decided to pick up some former SilkAir Boeing 737s.

Virgin Australia presently has 74 Boeing 737s in its fleet. Photo: Virgin Australia

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Former SilkAir Boeings spark interest

Earlier this month, Virgin Australia signed a letter of intent to take another seven Boeing 737-800s, with the delivery timeline to be confirmed. Virgin Australia’s fleet will have grown by 45% since exiting voluntary administration in the latter half of last year when those planes have arrived.

It’s the former SilkAir aircraft that are getting the attention of many regular Virgin Australia flyers. Seven of the SilkAir jets are due at Virgin Australia. Those planes were identified as 9V-MGF, 9V-MGG, 9V-MGH, 9V-MGI, 9V-MGJ, 9V-MGP, and 9V-MGQ.

9V-MGH, 9V-MGP, 9V-MGQ and 9V-MGJ remain in Singapore. But three of these planes have progressively arrived at Virgin Australia. 9V-MGG is now re-registered as VH-IJU and recently returned to Brisbane after undergoing maintenance in Townsville. 9V-MGI and 9V-MGF are re-registered as VH-IWQ and VH-IJQ, respectively, and are now flying passengers for Virgin Australia.

VH-IWQ’s first flight flying Virgin Australia passengers was Saturday, November 20. That morning, the Boeing quietly pushed back from its gate in Brisbane to operate a return service to Townsville. The jet backed that up with another return flight to Townsville on Tuesday and a return service to Cairns yesterday (Monday).

Monday also marked VH-IJQ’s entry into service at Virgin Australia. The plane operated the lunchtime VA1396 service between Brisbane and Adelaide and VA1403 back to Brisbane later in the day.

Virgin Australia is trialing new seats and a new cabin look on two former SilkAir Boeings. Photo: Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia stakes its future on the 737 MAX

What’s the big deal about a pair of former SilkAir Boeings? Virgin Australia is trialing a new cabin prototype on the aircraft. If the new cabin is well-received, the airline has an eye to rolling it out across its entire fleet.

While a refreshed cabin look is all very well and good, the real interest is in the new seats. Jagging a Virgin Australia flight on either VH-IJQ or VH-IWQ is a matter of luck (although it seems to help if you are flying in or out of Brisbane), but early reports on the new seats are positive.

However, these former SilkAir and Virgin Australia aircraft returning to the fleet are simply a warm-up for the main act. Virgin Australia has 25 B737 MAX 10 aircraft due to start landing in mid-2023. While the MAXs will likely sport the new Virgin Australia seats, they’ll also represent an important step forward for Virgin Australia as it builds up to become Australia’s biggest 737 operator.