Virgin Australia, it’s in shambles is the moment but how did it get this far? Why was it established? Why was there a need for another airline? It’s a tale that begins at the start of the century and involves perfect timing.
The year was 2000, TWA still existed, the deadly Paris Concorde crash happened and people were looking forward to a new century in safe aviation. It was also the year that a new airline called “Virgin Blue” entered the Australian market. It was small and faced stiff competition by the likes of Ansett and Qantas however Virgins plan wasn’t to directly compete with them, it was to offer low fares to destinations across Australia, a relivitilty new concept at the time. Their name which had Australian slang in it (blue means redhead) operated their first flight in August 2000 using a Boeing 737-400 as DJ214 from Brisbane to Sydney. As the airline was getting on its feet the world was changing, two aircraft crashed into the world trade towers in 2001 and shortly after that Ansett went belly up. In terms of business, Ansett’s demise was a godsend for Virgin Blue who in the past hadn’t even had access to aerobridges and wrote their business plans on beer coasters as the airline quickly accelerated to Australias second largest. It launched 14 new routes in 2001 alone with 9 more the following year, it was looking on the up for Virgin
2003 was the year 737-800’s started arriving into their hangers one of which is still flying today at almost 17 years old and when it started trading on the stock exchange, something it would continue to do until 2020. 2004 saw Virgins first subsidy come about, Pacific Blue would serve the Pacific Islands and New Zealand before a third subsidy came about in 2005 known as “Polynesian Blue”, a partnership between Virgin and the Samoan Government. Web check-in was also introduced that year, becoming the first Australian airline to do so while their first true competitor “Jetstar” was starting to become prominent. Virgin was beginning to look like a true domestic carrier and their decisions showed that they were serious. 2006 brought about a new frequent flyer program, 20 new orders for Embraer E Jets and partnerships with some of the worlds biggest carriers like Hawaiian and Emirates. 2007 had new innovations like carbon natural flights and domestic flights within New Zealand thanks to its subsidy Pacific Blue, the same year they also planned to establish a fourth subsidy and their biggest yet. This new airline would fly between Australia and the U.S as well as Abu Dhabi.
2008 saw the airline hinting that they may become a full-service carrier in the future with Virgin introducing Premium Economy (simular to European business class) on all of their single-aisle aircraft, this included lounge access and larger baggage allowances. Virgin Blue also said they wanted to operate transcontinental flights between the East Coast and Perth using Airbus A330 aircraft, the strategy using by Qantas.
2009 saw the launch of Virgin Blues fourth and most ambitious subsidy yet, a full-service long haul airline. The airline actually gave it to the public to decide a new name for the airline with the choices being: Amelia Blue, Australia Blue, Didgeree Blue, Liberty Blue, Matilda Blue, V Australia Airlines, Virgin Australia and Virgin Pacific. Personally I would have loved Matilda Blue but in the end, Didgeree Blue came a close second while the airline was officially named “V Australia”. Operations commenced in early 2009 using a new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft with the first flight operating between Los Angeles and Sydney. V Australia briefly operated to Johannesburg, Pucket and Nadi, these routes, however, were terminated after being unprofitable and the airline stuck to flying from Australia to the U.S and Abu Dhabi. 2010 saw the original Virgin Blue CEO step down and former Qantas boss John Borghetti take the reins of the now well-established airline. Virgin Blue is looking up, change, however, is on the horizon.
Tomorrow I’ll have a look at the modern history of Virgin Australia and how it became a true Qantas competitor, the Virgin Blue era was an amazing one and after carrying millions of passenger its name is still remembered today.
Virgin Blue’s first flight after arrival into Sydney image credit
Virgin Blue’s only aircraft to ever be painted blue image credit
Virgin Blue 737-700 in the standard livery