On the back of a healthy recovery in travel demand, Virgin Australia is looking to lease another 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with the first three to join the fleet this month. The leased planes are all former Virgin Australia aircraft returning to the airline. The Brisbane-based airline is also adding new routes, extending frequencies on existing routes, and hiring new employees. It’s a remarkable turnaround for an airline that just 12 months looked like going out of business.

On Thursday morning, Virgin Australia outlined its growth plans as the Australian domestic airline market continues to recover. The airline says it has “fast-tracked plans to acquire new aircraft, create more frontline jobs and grow its network to further support domestic tourism.”

More planes, more routes, and more people at Virgin Australia

By mid-year, Virgin Australia aims to be back to operating 80% of its pre-travel downturn capacity. Even with the additional 10 Boeings, it will be doing so with a substantially smaller fleet. But some adroit juggling of planes may help it get there. The airline says it remains committed to maintaining a market share consistent with its pre-downturn levels. That’s a clear shot across the bows of the Qantas Group who currently have a 70% domestic share.

After the first three Boeings land this month, the remaining seven planes will arrive over the next few months. Airbus A320s from Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) will also move across to the parent company and begin flying select routes such as Adelaide – Perth, Perth – Darwin, and Perth – Broome shortly. Further, under a wet-lease deal with Alliance Airlines, Fokker 100 aircraft will begin operating Virgin Australia services between Brisbane and Alice Springs and Brisbane and Mt Isa from Monday, April 19.

“More aircraft means more flying,” says Virgin Australia’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka. “We are building a strong and disciplined business.”

Right now, Virgin Australia is operating about 850 return flights a week across its network. The airline aims to add a further 220 return flights per week to its schedule by mid-year. New routes include Melbourne – Darwin and Melbourne – Hamilton Island. The airline will also extend seasonal services between Brisbane and Launceston and Melbourne and Ballina. Frequencies on key trunk routes are being lifted. The all-important Sydney – Melbourne route will see 25 return services a day by mid-June.

We’re hopeful that domestic border closures will soon be a thing of the past and are continuing to see positive signs of consumer recovery,” Ms Hrdlicka says.

Virgin Australia starts hiring again

In a further terrific piece of news, after making thousands of employees redundant last year, Virgin Australia is now back hiring people. More than 220 cabin crew return to the skies from the airline’s discontinued long-haul international, ATR regional, and Tigerair Australia operations.

We are thrilled to be able to welcome many of them back to Virgin Australia,” the airline’s CEO said today.

In addition, another 150 cabin crew positions will open up to former Virgin Australia and external candidates. However, Jayne Hrdlicka does say former employees are likely to have the edge.

With increased competition on several key trunk routes after Regional Express (Rex) began jet services recently, all eyes have been on how Virgin Australia responds. Today’s news suggests Virgin Australia is well-positioned to deal with competitive threats from any new upstart airline. Virgin Australia’s network expansion also comes on the same day that Qantas has announced its domestic services are also recovering nicely.

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