Virgin Australia has confirmed a mid-year launch of flights between Australia and Hong Kong.
Melbourne is tipped to be the Aussie anchor for the flights, in a move which will see Virgin going up against incumbents Qantas and Cathay Pacific as the challenger spreads its international wings.
"Cathay and Qantas have got (Hong Kong) by the throat" said Virgin Australia group CEO Borghetti.
"We intend to break that duopoly and bring competition from the price side but also from the product side," he added.
Virgin will roster one of its Airbus A330 jets onto the route, tempting corporate travellers with the promise of modern and spacious business class seats with direct aisle access for every passenger.
Virgin has not yet revealed timings for the flights, which will also feed into routes from Hong Kong to mainland China on Hong Kong Airlines and Hainan Airlines, which are part-owned by Virgin stakeholder and Chinese aviation colossus HNA Group.
The route's Australian base, fares and schedule details should be announced in early April, as Virgin requires interin approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for both the route and its proposed alliance agreement with HNA – a process which Borghetti was hopeful would take "four weeks, maybe a bit longer."
Business class travellers and top-tier Velocity Frequent Flyer members will be able to use Hong Kong Airlines' Club Bauhinia lounge at Hong Kong International Airport...
... while also being able to earn Velocity points and status credits on the Hong Kong and mainland China routes, and enjoy reciprocal access to Hong Kong Airlines' Fortune Wings Club for tier status benefits including lounge access, priority check-in, priority boarding and additional baggage allowances.
China to follow, but maybe not Beijing
Virgin also expects to roll out a direct flight between Australia and mainland China – but while it previously applied for regulatory permission to fly to Beijing, the Chinese capital is no longer a lock.
"It's complex," Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller. "Slots at Beijing and Shanghai are not easy to get, so it's a balancing act between where you want to fly and where you can get slots."
"Fortunately we can get a feed from HNA from almost any city," he added, indicating that Virgin is looking further afield than the two most obvious candidates.
"It's a work in progress, just like with Hong Kong we won't announce anything until it's secured."
Qantas restarted daily Sydney-Beijing flights in January on the back of long-standing Sydney-Shanghai flights plus of course daily services out of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Hong Kong.
Chinese airlines have been aggressively expanding their footprint into Australia to move beyond direct flights to 'the big three' cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou but also over a dozen secondary cities which are vital to Chinese manufacturing and Australian imports and sales.