Virgin Australia could fly to China from next year, with Beijing and Hong Kong flagged as possible new destinations. The flights would be operated by Airbus A330 aircraft currently used on most flights between the east coast and Perth.
The announcement comes after HNA Group, which part-owns Chinese-based Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines, bought a 13% stake in Virgin Australia. HNA Group also picked up a seat on the Virgin Australia board.
This comes just two months after Air New Zealand announced plans to sell some or all of its shares in the airline, and Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon resigned from the Virgin Australia board.
Not long after the deal with HNA Group was announced, Virgin Australia applied for rights to fly to Hong Kong and Beijing. If governmental and regulatory approval is granted, the flights could start as soon as June of next year.
ISAC has released details that VA has applied for capacity from ‘a major international gateway in Australia’ for both Beijing and Hong Kong. The airline is seeking 1925 seats per week to PEK and seven weekly frequencies to HKG. This is to be operated by A330-200 aircraft configured with 275 seats from 1 June 2017.
Virgin Australia would likely operate a flight to Beijing in partnership with Hainan Airlines, which has a hub in Beijing. Virgin would codeshare on connecting flights from Beijing to other cities in China, and vice versa. The Chinese airline also operates hubs in Haikou and Xi’an, so flights into these cities are a possibility in future. Likewise, any new flight to Hong Kong would likely operate in partnership with Hong Kong Airlines, which would provide onward connections from Hong Kong. Hong Kong Airlines already flies to the Gold Coast and Cairns, while Hainan Airlines does not currently enjoy a presence in the Australian market.
It seems likely there would be a codesharing arrangement into one of HN’s hubs in PEK, XIY or HAK to maximise domestic through-traffic.
Virgin has not yet announced which Australian cities it plans to operate the flights from, but Sydney and Brisbane seem the most likely options.
There are already multiple daily flights between most Australian cities and Hong Kong on several different airlines. However, Beijing is served by just 3x weekly flights from Melbourne and 4x weekly non-stop flights from Sydney. There are currently no direct flights between Brisbane and Beijing.
The new flights would be operated by an A330-200 aircraft. These planes are currently the workhorses of Virgin’s routes between the east coast and Perth. The Business cabins on these aircraft were recently upgraded with all passengers receiving direct aisle access and lie-flat beds. Virgin currently has only 6 A330s in its fleet. When it starts operating the new flights, Virgin will either need to acquire more planes or reduce the number of A330s flying to and from Perth.
Yep, I think VA will start flying the a330’s to China. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get 1 or 2 new a330’s. a330’s will remain “coast to coast”, though expect the schedule to become a bit more standardised with which flights are a330 and those which are b737.
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