Slow & Steady: Virgin Australia Is Building Up Its Fleet Again

It might seem like an odd time for any Australian airline to be taking on extra aircraft, but a steady beat of new arrivals are landing at Virgin Australia. In the last six weeks, four extra planes have come to the airline. A further five are due over the next six months.


Four of nine additional Boeing 737-800s ordered in August have already arrived at the airline. Photo: Getty Images

Extra planes arrive at Virgin Australia at a steady pace

In late August, Virgin Australia announced it would boost its fleet by nine planes by March 2022. In the washup, it was established two of those planes were former Virgin Australia aircraft returning to the fold. The remaining seven planes would come from SilkAir.

After a horror year, Virgin Australia is gearing up for better times in 2022. The now notoriously cost-conscious airline must be very confident things will improve if they are willing to increase their day-to-day operational costs by bringing in extra planes.

The two former Virgin Australia Boeings have already flown in. N341CG (formerly VH-VUI Kewarra Beach) hopscotched its way across the Pacific in early September. The 737-800 flew from Victorville to San Bernardino on September 2, San Bernardino to Honolulu later that day, Honolulu to Majuro Atoll on September 3, and Majuro Atoll to Virgin Australia’s home base of Brisbane on September 4.

The Boeing was promptly re-registered as VH-IWQ and flew up to Townsville on September 26 for a refresh at a maintenance facility there.

The second Boeing, N343CG (formerly VH-VUJ Rosebud Beach), only landed in Brisbane on Friday. Like its sister plane, the jet operated a series of island hops to get to Brisbane. On October 6, the plane flew from Spokane to Portland. Then after less than four hours on the ground, it flew to Honolulu on the same day. The next day, the 737-800 operated Honolulu to Majuro Atoll. On Friday, the jet flew the last leg to Brisbane.

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Last week’s flight between Spokane and Brisbane for N343CG. Source: GCmaps.com

Two of seven ex-Silk Air Boeings have arrived at Virgin Australia

Neither plane are exactly what you’d call factory fresh, both first going to Virgin Blue in the August-September 2006 period. Virgin Blue morphed into Virgin Australia in 2011, becoming a Qantas mini-me. Many argue that’s when the financial rot set in at the airline, ultimately leading to its collapse and sale in 2020.

In any case, both planes stayed with Virgin Australia until last November, when the restructured airline sent its surplus planes back to their owners, in this case, the Aviation Capital Group. The planes stayed in storage in the US until Virgin Australia called them back into service.

Of the seven Brisbane-bound ex-Silk Air 737-800s, two have arrived. 9V-MGI flew from Singapore to Brisbane on September 21. On Sunday, 9V-MGF operated SQ8890 between Singapore and Brisbane. The remaining five identified former Silk Air Boeing 737-800s; 9V-MGG, 9V-MGH,9V-MGJ, 9V-MGP, and 9V-MGQ, are still in Singapore.

While minimal work will need to be done on the two former Virgin Australia planes, the seven Silk Air aircraft will need a repaint and a Virgin Australia style cabin fit-out. The chatter is this is to be done in Townsville. Further chatter has it Virgin Australia has taken their branded seats out of planes handed back to lessors and warehoused them – they’ll find their way onboard the ex-Silk Air jets.

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Virgin Australia is taking seven ex-Silk AIr Boeing 737-800s. Photo: Boeing

Virgin Australia keeps pushing onwards

Despite all the upheaval at the airline, Virgin Australia has always maintained a very distinctive, consistent, and appealing cabin look. It’s one tradition the rebirth airline is unlikely to break with.

Virgin Australia has had a tough time of it the past 18 months. Actual hours in the air remain relatively anemic. But the airline has also been quietly rebuilding its network and settling down as a mid-market airline. It’s not without its flaws, but Virgin Australia is regaining some fans along the way. More planes are another step in Virgin Australia’s evolution.