The new boss of Virgin Australia, Jayne Hrdlicka, says the airline will retain its Perth-based fly-in, fly-out operation but warns the service needs an overhaul to compete with rival Qantaslink.
Ms Hrdlicka told Airlineratings.com that while Virgin Australia Regional Airlines would survive under private equity owners Bain Capital, there was a “lot of work to be done” on the service.
On the VARA fleet, Ms Hrdlicka said the 100-seat Fokker 100s would stay but the future of the 180-seat Airbus A320s was up in the air.
“The fleet is the fleet at the moment,” Ms Hrdlicka said, adding that there were “showstoppers” at VARA.
“We have to have a cost base that is competitive and we have to respond to market circumstances.”
Ms Hrdlicka, who took over this week from Paul Scurrah, dismissed suggestions the airline was going down-market.
Virgin recently came under fire from customers who were offered budget meals, including two-minute noodles, despite paying as much as $2500 for a business-class ticket.
“We are all about great value at the heartland of the Australia travel market,” Ms Hrdlicka said.
“We are keeping business class and economy X, which is a great experience and great value.”
The company is yet to confirm details on what the new business-class product will include but Ms Hrdlicka said it was likely beds were out.
She also warned yesterday that amid the pandemic, the airline and the country remained in a period of great uncertainty.
“We are super optimistic about the future for the airline but there are some things we control and there is a lot we do not,” Ms Hrdlicka said, adding that the key was the opening of borders. “We have to navigate these borders but are confident that the Australian public wants to travel.”
Ms Hrdlicka said though the airline’s plan was to increase its staffing level from the 6000 that were retained, that was “directly related to the amount of flying and thus the borders”.
She also put major rival Qantas on notice that Virgin was not about to cede any of its market share.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said last week he thought Virgin’s new scaled-back strategy could lead to his airline increasing its domestic market share from 60 per cent to 70 per cent.
“We want to retain 33 per cent of the market,” Ms Hrdlicka said.
Virgin is yet to finalise the offering it will roll out for its three classes, with plans to unveil that in the first quarter of next year.
It will reopen its major capital-city lounges over the coming weeks and its “premium entry” feature will remain. Lounge memberships that expired during the COVID-19 period will be extended for 12 months from the original expiry date.
On a return to international operations, Ms Hrdlicka said the domestic network had to first turn a profit and an investment case would be needed to justify buying suitable planes.
Analysts have suggested the re-entry to international routes could be 2022 and that Virgin was eyeing the Boeing 787-9, the same plane that operates the Perth-to-London nonstop service for Qantas.
Boeing is known to be offering amazing deals on new aircraft but that may not be the case in 2022.
Ms Hrdlicka, at Brisbane Airport yesterday for the reopening of the Virgin Australia lounge, said the airline brought something special to the Australian public and she was honoured to now be part of it.