What Happened To Virgin Australia’s Long Haul Fleet?

While Virgin Australia looks like surviving the worst 2020 can throw at it, one of the casualties is its long-haul flying operations. The airline hasn’t ruled out a resumption, but long-haul flying is off the radar for some time. Also set to go are the planes that flew the long-haul routes. That’s bad news for fans of the old Virgin Australia long-haul product. Virgin Australia’s leased long-haul planes are going back to their owners while others face an uncertain future. One thing’s for sure; these planes won’t be coming back.

Virgin Australia had ten aircraft in its long-haul fleet. Photo: Virgin Australia

A well regarded but minimalist long-haul network

Even in the best of times, Virgin Australia’s long-haul network was minimalist, usually reaching out to a couple of international destinations. There were only ten aircraft in Virgin Australia’s long-haul fleet, with some of those planes also used on domestic services within Australia. The inflight product was generally excellent. Despite this, Virgin Australia’s long-haul international services were always a sideshow to the main game of domestic services.

Except for successful services to North America, Virgin Australia always struggled to get traction with its long-haul services. Over the years, services to destinations such as Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi, and Phuket were tried and ultimately failed to take off.

The long-haul services to Los Angeles did do well. Using Boeing 777-300  aircraft and operating out of Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, the flights were well regarded. A lot of people argued Virgin Australia had the best product across the Pacific.

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Despite a great in-flight product, many of Virgin Australia’s long-haul services struggled. Photo: Virgin Australia

The Los Angeles flights prospered while Hong Kong struggled

Those Los Angeles services were the backbone of Virgin Australia’s long-haul operations. Services to other long-haul destinations did not have the same degree of success. Until earlier this year, Virgin Australia also flew to Hong Kong from both Sydney and Melbourne. Again, despite having a really good in-flight product, these services struggled.

Virgin Australia first dropped the service from Melbourne. Then the Sydney service got axed in favor of a new service to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport from Brisbane. The flights to Japan were slated to begin in March this year.

Flights to Haneda never got off the ground as the travel downturn began to impact earlier this year. Shortly after, nearly all Virgin Australia services went into hiatus. In April, the airline went into voluntary administration. Virgin Australia is now coming out of voluntary administration and still flying. But long-haul flights are off the books for the foreseeable future.

A Virgin Australia A330-200 coming into Perth Airport. Photo: Jordan Vuong via Wikimedia Commons

What’s going on with the long-haul aircraft?

Virgin Australia’s long-haul fleet included four Boeing 777-300s and six Airbus A330-200s. The A330s are leased, and the airline owns its Boeing 777s. During long-haul flying downtime, the A330s frequently got deployed on transcontinental east-west flights in Australia. But the post voluntary administration Virgin Australia will only operate Boeing 737-800 aircraft, leaving all of Virgin Australia’s long-haul fleet redundant.

According to planespotters.net, the ten long-haul planes are still with Virgin Australia. A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Simple Flying that they were working with lessors and secured creditors on an “appropriate program” that will see the long-haul fleet leave the airline.

Meanwhile,  a Boeing 777-300 was spied at Sydney Airport yesterday, near where the private jets are parked. Planespotters.net has VH-VPE Noosa Heads in Sydney. VH-VPF Caves Beach is in Brisbane. VH-VPD Avalon Beach flew to Hong Kong out of Brisbane late September and has not returned. We think the fourth 777-300, VH-VPH St Kilda Beach is at Brisbane Airport.

The six leased Airbus A330s remain variously scattered about the place. VH-XFC Mooloolaba Beach sits at Avalon Airport outside Melbourne. VH-XFE Manly Beach is at Perth Airport. VH-XFG Terrigal Beach is at Brisbane Airport. VH-XFH Duranbah Beach is at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport. VH-XFD Bells Beach appears to be near its namesake, parked at Melbourne Airport. Finally, VH-XFJ Gnaraloo Bay is also in Melbourne.

For fans of these planes, and they were great planes to fly in, it’s a melancholy fate. Sitting at airports, doing nothing, facing an uncertain future, it’s an ignoble end for the long-haul arm of Australia’s second-biggest airline.