Virgin Australia hits pause on new Boeing 737 business class

Virgin Australia hits pause on new Boeing 737 business class

Virgin Australia has pressed the pause button on the launch of its new Boeing 737 transcontinental business class, but says it will be ready to go as more Airbus A330s make their way to Asia.

The airline’s top secret “Perth product” for its Boeing 737 jets – which would take over from the larger twin-aisle A330s and their international-grade business class on east-west routes – was previously tipped to be revealed this month, ahead of flights in the later half of 2018.

However, Virgin Australia Airlines group executive Rob Sharp tells Australian Business Traveller that “there’s not an immediate need” for what Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti has described as a “quantum leap in domestic business class."

“Hong Kong remains our primary focus, and the Airbus A330s are a perfect vehicle for that market, and at some point when slots become available (for Sydney-Hong Kong or Brisbane-Hong Kong) – and we’re certainly aiming for them – we will put A330s onto that route.”

“But at the moment the (Perth product) decision’s not needed because we haven’t got those Hong Kong slots.”

Sharp agrees with the assessment that the Boeing 737 transcontinental business class is now “not quite as urgent”, and says he expects “there will always be A330s” on the east-west route.

“How many will be the question. Over the last couple of years all airlines have pulled back on (east-west) wide-body capacity purely because demand has dropped off after the mining boom, but we’re not going to take all the A330s off the route.”

This has also reduced the pressure to roll out a new Boeing 737 business class – potentially with flat beds and direct aisle access – and while Sharp concedes that the rollout is “on hold”, he later suggests “it’s not as much ‘on hold’ as that the timing of the investment is going to be driven buy the timing of international growth. We’re not rushing into it.”

Sharp wouldn’t be drawn on if Virgin Australia has settled on the design of the new transcontinental business class.

"We’ve got nothing to announce in terms of the product, all I can say is ‘Yes we do have plans in terms of what we can do, because product is important across that east-west segment particularly on overnights”… although he jokes that “people are a bit spoiled with the wide-bodies.”

Space to sleep in single-aisle jets

Only a handful of airlines have moved beyond conventional business class recliners on single-aisle jets such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series, most notable US carrier JetBlue's Mint premium cabin, which combines lie-flat seats with personal suites on US transcontinental routes...

... a version of which has also featured in Boeing's promotional material for its 737 MAX jets, shown below...

... and recently the lie-flat seats in Flydubai's Boeing 737 MAX  jets.

Meanwhile, Thompson Aero Seating is busy promoting its Vantage Solo design – which combines lie-flat beds and direct aisle access – to airlines plotting their next generation of Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 business class.

Read more: The next generation in Airbus, Boeing single-aisle business class seats

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

9 Comments

  • reeves35

    reeves35

    5 Dec, 2017 08:38 am

    You'd think they won't do anything with the new 737 J class until the 737MAX arrive in a couple of years. In the meantime, it is unlikely any of the existing NG fleet would require a refit.
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  • Graham BLAMEX

    BLAMEX

    5 Dec, 2017 08:42 am

    That is some what disappointing. Our Australian carriers need to travel domestic in China yes China and Japan. Not only do they have a far superior domestic product it is on average 30% below the Australian pricing. I was stunned to find a domestic flight within japan first class equivalent MEL-BNE full fare AUD $580!. QF domestic is the better product in Australia however travel outside Australia and you will soon see what could be offered.
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  • NBShone

    NBShone

    5 Dec, 2017 08:53 am

    And you need to try European business class where normally it is just an economy seat row with the middle seat blocked out.
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    alan-aa1981

  • Alex_upgrade

    alex_upgrade77

    5 Dec, 2017 05:21 pm

    In fairness BLAMEX, the cost base of Chinese carriers is also probably 30% less than Aussie airlines and that market couldn't support Aussie fares. I live in Europe and intra Europe business here is a joke compared to what Aussies get. And for similar or greater distances..
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    5 Dec, 2017 09:33 pm

    @BLAMEX:
    "..Australian carriers need to travel domestic in China yes China and Japan. Not only do they have a far superior domestic product..."
    Patently not true.

    In China domestic, the highest specs J design is horizontal flat bed with direct aisle access for every seat(exclusively available only for the PEK-PVG-CAN triangle trunks and not even all frequencies)..in other words, same deal as the best J in AU domestic trunks to/fm PER.

    In Japan domestic, the highest specs F design today is still a recliner...let alone horizontal flat bed with direct aisle access for every seat like in AU domestic. In addition, the highest spec J in Japan domestic(Only JL has this) is similar to the LOWEST spec J common on 737 in AU domestic. In a nutshell, the best in Japan domestic is INFERIOR to the best in AU domestic.

    "..travel outside Australia and you will soon see what could be offered."
    Correct, one will quickly realize pretty much no one else on the planet deploy flat bed with direct aisle access for every J seat on a domestic route like Australian carriers still do on MEL/SYD-PER....JetBlue Mint on U.S. transcon trunks comes close but still not quite because not every Mint seat has direct aisle access.
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  • Michael Reade

    MikeAir

    6 Dec, 2017 04:26 pm

    I regularly travel from SHA-CAN on a 773 in an international grade first seat for less then AUD240
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  • Mitchell Dennis

    Mitchd31

    5 Dec, 2017 11:09 am

    Virgin have the best wide body business in Australia /Nz by far.
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  • kiwiwings

    kiwiwings

    5 Dec, 2017 11:28 am

    QF's A330 and VA's A330 J products are fairly neck and neck for me. Like them both.
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  • moa999

    moa999

    5 Dec, 2017 12:10 pm

    Or is this because Asia isn't working out like they expected?

    Loads on initial flights were in the 60s based on BITRE data
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  • Gobbley

    Gobbley

    5 Dec, 2017 04:24 pm

    Based on, what, 20 flights? Seriously, new routes take time. If you're expecting instant 80% plus loads then you're dreamin. But any ol reason to bash Virgin I guess.
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    5 Dec, 2017 09:40 pm

    @moa999:
    "Asia isn't working out like they expected?"
    Yes, if "isn't working out" is defined strictly as the inability to secure econ viable slots @ famously congested(almost a cliche' these days for those who understand the N.E.Asian aviation mkt) HKG, PVG, PEK, etc.
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  • bmstbs

    bmstbs

    5 Dec, 2017 12:54 pm

    This is pretty disappointing. Would love to see them ultimately implement something similar to the AA 321 transcontinental first class (without the silly issue that restricts when you can actually have the tv screen deployed)
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  • John Phelan

    John Phelan

    5 Dec, 2017 02:45 pm

    Flat beds are ridiculous on flights that last only between 3 and 5 hours. Australia already has the most luxurious domestic system in the world.
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  • PERflyer

    PERflyer

    5 Dec, 2017 05:36 pm

    Ultimately the market does the talking and atleast in Qantas’s case the big corporates are still happy paying $2000 each way PER-SYD even with the mining boom reported as being over. It’s your opinion that the flat beds aren’t necessary I don’t agree with that. I know the corporates on the red eye paying top $$ pick these flights so they can sleep and perform a full day of work in SYD/MEL/BNE even with a rather low 3 hours sleep in reality.

    Also gives Qantas great flexibility to swap A330 domestic international during a standard ops day which is really beneficial.
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    5 Dec, 2017 09:57 pm

    "Flat beds are ridiculous on flights that last only between 3 and 5 hours"
    3hrs may be.

    But for 5hrs sectors, I'm guessing those departing PER shortly b4 midnight on VA696/570 or QF568/648 heading to MEL/SYD and scheduled to show up @ a conference room the nex morning may beg to defer fm yr opinion....

    "Australia already has the most luxurious domestic system in the world."
    This is very true. The only non-glorious part is probably how the "domestic system" connects with its int'l system @ SYD, BNE or PER(though QF is trying to fix the issue permanently @ this station in prep for PER-LHR)....
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  • aturnbull

    aturnbull

    5 Dec, 2017 02:46 pm

    I agree there must not be too much of a rush. 3 A330s is all thats required to go triple daily ex MEL, SYD and BNE one the appropriate slots are available. That still leaves 3 A330s for the PER runs. With the remaining 3 birds they can fly 2 return services to PER daily with each craft. I would think as long as they have the redeyes ex PER as 330s and other connecting services to international flights that will cover it.

    As a side note, considering their PER presence I wonder if they plan to do PER to HKG say 3pw (with say BNEHKG doing the other 4pw)
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  • reeves35

    reeves35

    5 Dec, 2017 04:02 pm

    Slots into HKG are a major problem and will remain so until a third runway is built. VA would probably love to have daily flights from BNE, SYD and PER as well as MEL hubbing into Hainan's mainland services but, until more slots open up, this isn't going to happen. VA's one advantage is Hainan is politically well connected in Hong Kong and Beijing so it has a fairly good chance of slots when they come along.
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  • FLX

    FLX1

    5 Dec, 2017 10:26 pm

    @reeves35:
    "VA's one advantage is Hainan is politically well connected in Hong Kong .."
    Is that why the rapidly growing HKExpress, a local LCC based in HKG but effectively controlled by HNA Group, is legally barred from any further expansion since last mth by the CAD(Hong Kong civil aviation regulator) including adding new flights or taking new aircraft deliveries.....let alone getting new slots? It's especially striking that CAD has never dealt such harsh penalty to any HK registered airline throughout its entire admin history fm the colonial days.

    I hope such 'advantageous' political connection between CAD and HNA Group does not spill over to VA....otherwise, VA has no chance to get HKG slot anytime soon.
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  • PERflyer

    PERflyer

    5 Dec, 2017 05:42 pm

    Cathay 10 flights a week to Perth usually very healthy loads and have recently upguaged the dailiy night time flight to 359 which has provided 30 odd more seats per day. They have said they would have double daily if they could but we all know their restrictions on the big 4 airports. Certainly would be good to get a VA * option to HK


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  • FLX

    FLX1

    5 Dec, 2017 10:09 pm

    @atrunbull:
    " 3 A330s is all thats required to go triple daily ex MEL, SYD and BNE.."
    True if HKG is all they do @ the other end of those routes.

    "That still leaves 3 A330s for the PER runs."
    Which also happens to be just barely sufficient to replicate in the form of daily BNE/SYD/MEL-PEK or similar Chinese station....and we've not even started to entertain the idea of PER-HKG just 1x wkly....
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  • aturnbull

    aturnbull

    5 Dec, 2017 11:27 pm

    Fair point, however I would think it unlikely that all 330s will be dropped off the key PER-SYD and MEL runs when their major competitor runs multiple daily.

    I think mainland China is a fair way off for VA unless the HKG slot issue continues to be a problem. In that case instead of adding frequencies to HKG they would operate say SYD/MEL - PEK instead
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  • Declan Rye

    declanr

    6 Dec, 2017 04:07 pm

    I cannot wait for VA to start SYD - HK flights. A key route missing from their portfolio.
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  • Browny

    Browny

    10 Dec, 2017 09:04 am

    YES YES!! you might pay for business for a trans tas man and get NO bed. Or fly to Sydney on and A330 and get a bed!!! Smartest idea
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19 Dec, 2017 09:29 am

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