International Partners Key To Refocused Virgin Australia

CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has stressed the importance of new codeshare partnerships with the likes of United Airlines and Qatar Airways.

Credit: Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia plans to leverage the strength of partner airlines to broaden its international network after restructuring its operations to focus on its core competencies.

CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said the carrier had “lost sight” of its roots in the decade before filing for voluntary administration in 2020 by “pursuing a strategy that was trying to be somebody that we weren’t.”

The airline, now owned by US private equity firm Bain Capital, has since streamlined its network to focus on domestic routes in Australia and is tentatively taking steps to reintroduce some short-haul international services.

Although a return to long-haul flying remains a possibility—as reported by Aviation Week on June 20—Hrdlicka stressed the renewed importance of partnerships to its international network.

“We can’t provide the international network that [our passengers] need and want, so we need to have the world’s best partners to continue the experience execution that we start in Australia,” she said at the IATA AGM in Doha.

“We have to start from a standpoint of who are we serving. We’re serving our guests—and they deserve the very best out of Australia. And for us that’s United into the US; it’s Qatar into Europe. Singapore Airlines into Asia and through Asia into Europe. And the combination of those partners brings an extraordinary network.”

Virgin Australia dropped Delta Air Lines as its US partner last December after more than a decade, instead switching to United. In May, the Australian carrier also unveiled plans to partner with Qatar Airways. Virgin Australia’s other partners include Air Canada, All Nippon Airways, Etihad and Hawaiian Airlines.

The United-Virgin Australia tie-up was granted interim approval by Australia’s competition regulator in May and the US carrier has since announced plans to launch a new San Francisco (SFO)-Brisbane (BNE) route, which it said has been made possible thanks to new codeshare partnership.

According to data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser, Virgin Australia currently operates a domestic network of 86 routes and offers some 483,000 weekly seats, giving the airline a capacity share of about 33%.

Internationally, nine routes are now operating following a number of resumptions in recent days. Flights from Sydney (SYD) to Bali (DPS) restarted on June 15, with service to Bali from Melbourne (MEL) and Brisbane relaunching on June 17. Further overseas routes will return later this year and during the first quarter of 2023.

“We’re clear about the fact that we’re focused on leisure, premium leisure, small and medium-sized businesses, and value-conscious corporates,” Hrdlicka said. “We’ve got an experience that lines up against that proposition. We’ve completely restructured pricing in the marketplace; our load factors are the highest in the market right now.”

Prior to the pandemic, Virgin Australia offered long-haul routes to the likes of Los Angeles (LAX) and Hong Kong (HGK). In a separate interview with Aviation Week, Hrdlicka said the airline was “knee-deep in evaluating our options to re-enter long-haul international flying.” However, she stressed that the carrier was “going to take our time and get it right.”