Qantas plans to rely on the muscle of its Airbus A330 fleet rather than a new Boeing 737 business class in the continuing dogfight with Virgin Australia for transcontinental business travellers.
Virgin Australia will gradually draw down the number of A330s on the east-west corridor as the big twin-aisle jets are assigned to new Asian routes such as Melbourne-Hong Kong, with Sydney-Hong Kong and Brisbane-Hong Kong also on the to-do list alongside flights into mainland China.
While a spokesperson for the airline maintains "there will still be A330 services" on east-west routes, despite allowing that "the majority of A330s will be concentrated in Asia", Virgin intends to fill any gaps in its A330 schedule with a new transcontinental business class fitted to its smaller single-aisle Boeing 737 fleet.
Virgin's new "Perth product", as it's being referred to internally – and which airline CEO John Borghetti touts as a “quantum leap in domestic business class” – will be revealed at the end of this year, but isn't expected to take wing until the second half of 2018.
However, Qantas has no plans to counter Virgin's move by launching its own transcontinental Boeing 737 business class.
Australian Business Traveller understands that Qantas plans to maintain its grip on coast-to-coast corporates by leveraging its sizeable Airbus A330 fleet, despite the appearance of Boeing 737s during low-demand periods such as weekends.
"We’re always focused on making sure we have the right aircraft on the right route based on market demand, which includes flying some of our A330s on east-west routes," a Qantas spokesman told Australian Business Traveller.
Virgin currently has six Airbus A330-200s in its fleet, while Qantas has 18 of the same A330-200 type along with 10 of the A330-300s, some of which also appear on transcontinental services.
Both airlines aim to keep their Airbus A330s on overnight services where business class passengers can fully appreciate the lie-flat business class beds, even given the relatively short 4-5 hour duration of those flights.
Borghetti's surprise announcement of a new Boeing 737 business class for east-west routes signals a new push in the business class battle which Qantas and Virgin Australia have waged for the past six years, beginning with the challenger's rebranding from Virgin Blue in May 2011.