Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson wants to see his Australian franchise spread its wings even further into Asia with plans for Virgin Australia to fly from both Sydney and Brisbane to Hong Kong.
Speaking at the launch of the airline's Melbourne-Hong Kong route ahead of the inaugural service today, Branson affirmed that "we're hopeful to get the slots": Hong Kong being a notoriously busy airport with tightly-controlled flight schedules.
"We have to get into Hong Kong and that's tough – and that's being worked on – so we obviously have applied for 21 new slots in Hong Kong which would hopefully cover Sydney and Brisbane... we would hope to get enough slots to get that up and running," Branson added.
Having axed flights to the Abu Dhabi hub of partner Etihad Airways, Virgin Australia has redrawn its international network to focus primarily on the USA, with flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles – and now Melbourne into Hong Kong.
"This is the spearhead into Asia for us, Mainland China is next," Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller. "Hong Kong is the start of our Asian expansion."
Virgin Australia is now flying its Airbus A330 aircraft five days a week between Melbourne and Hong Kong, a route which until now has been exclusive to Oneworld frenemies Qantas and Cathay Pacific.
"Competition is a wonderful thing, not just from a pricing perspective but also from the point of view of product and service," Borghetti continues.
His next step is to turn Melbourne into a daily service. "This depends on getting extra slots, but whatever we get, the first two will go towards making Melbourne daily."
Borghetti described the Melbourne-Hong Kong route as a "no-brainer", estimating that Cathay pacific enjoys a 70% market share due to running three flights each day.
"This is a route that's dominated by one airline, and as good as they are, a bit of completion doesn't hurt... so if we can get to seven flights each week, which is what Qantas has got, then that's a pretty good position."
"Then, depending on how many more we get, we'll look at Sydney and Brisbane."
Borghetti says that Sydney Airport's curfew compared to Brisbane Airport's around-the-clock operation could tip the scales in favour of the Queensland capital.
"One thing to consider is going to be the slots we get from Hong Kong, can we operate them within a curfew? There's no point in having slots if you can’t land your aeroplanes, so we’ll see how it goes."
Virgin also intends to launch a second series of flights between Mainland China and Australia later this year, although Borghetti refused to be drawn on which cities would anchor the route.
David Flynn travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Virgin Australia