Australia’s domestic airline sector may be struggling, but Virgin Australia’s fleet is expanding. Ramping up for recovery, Virgin Australia wants plenty of flight-ready aircraft at its gates when passengers start returning. But where are the fleet additions coming from?
SilkAir Boeings find a second life
Showing considerable confidence in the future of Australia’s beleaguered commercial aviation industry, Virgin Australia confirmed late last week it would add another nine Boeing 737-800NGs to its fleet by early next year.
By March 2022, Virgin Australia aims to have 77 aircraft in its fleet. This is just shy of the total number of planes in the fleet when Virgin Australia went into voluntary administration in 2020.
While not going into specifics, last week, Virgin Australia indicated several of the nine new planes would not be former Virgin Australia aircraft. To date, Virgin Australia has made life easy for itself by taking back planes they’d previously returned to lessors.
This time around, Virgin Australia is taking back two of its former planes and bringing into the fleet seven former SilkAir Boeing 737-800NGs.
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Seven SilkAir Boeings head to Virgin Australia
The two former Virgin Australia 737-800NGs are now preparing to return from the United States. N341CG (formerly VH-VUI Kewarra Beach) flew from Miami (MIA) to Victorville (VCV) on August 21. N343CG (formerly VH-VUJ Rosebud Beach) is still in Miami.
Both planes are owned by California-based Aviation Capital Group (ACG). The first is due to land in Brisbane later this week.
The seven former SilkAir aircraft en route to Virgin Australia are 9V-MGF, 9V-MGG, 9V-MGH, 9V-MGI, 9V-MGJ, 9V-MGP, and 9V-MGQ. Now SilkAir is merged with parent airline, Singapore Airlines, these Boeings were deemed surplus to requirements. SilkAir moved to dispose of the planes earlier this year.
All seven aircraft are still in Singapore. The oldest, 9V-MGF, is turning seven next month. That plane arrived at SilkAir in September 2014. 9V-MGG and 9V-MGH followed in October and November, respectively.
9V-MGI arrived at SilkAir in February 2015, followed thereafter by 9V-MGJ in April 2015. The final two Virgin Australia-bound 737-800NGs didn’t land in Singapore until 2016. 9V-MGP and 9V-MGQ arrived at SilkAir in May and October 2016.
“These extra aircraft are an important part of our planning and ensure we’re ready to ramp up flying and meet the pent-up demand for domestic travel as soon as the opportunity presents itself,” said Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka on Friday.
New aircraft reduces the age of the Virgin Australia fleet
The average age of Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800 fleet is 10 years. These ex-SilkAir aircraft will help bring down that average age. Singapore Airlines Group’s obsession with maintenance adds extra lustre to the deal.
While Virgin Australia’s bullishness raised some eyebrows last week, its decision to go with immaculate SilkAir aircraft over older former Virgin Australia aircraft did not.
The downside is these planes will not come already fitted out with Virgin Australia seats. SilkAir’s cabin configuration is also different from the Virgin Australia product. For example, SilkAir’s former Boeing 737-800NG aircraft have 12 business class seats, whereas the Virgin Australia product features eight business class seats.
Virgin Australia could choose to fly with two cabin configurations across its 737-800NG fleet. But the scuttlebutt is Virgin Australia’s busy taking out its seats from aircraft sent back to lessors and will be fitting out the SilkAir planes with those.
With Qantas dominating Australia’s skies, it’s good to see Virgin Australia getting on the front foot and growing. Like many other people, Virgin Australia is counting on a big rebound this upcoming southern summer.