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Virgin Australia

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Virgin Australia History.

Virgin Australia was born as Virgin Blue and commenced services on 31 August 2000 on the Brisbane - Sydney route using two Boeing 737-400 aircraft, rising to five aircraft by the end of that year.

The Virgin Blue name was chosen as the winner of a naming competition and the predominantly red livery was said to be both a play on the Australian nickname of a “bluey” for a redhead and also a deliberate attempt to distinguish the aircraft from the mainly white aircraft of QANTAS and Ansett Australia. In reality the livery already existed on Virgin Express aircraft in Europe and the initial plan was to regularly switch aircraft between the northern and southern hemisphere summer seasons.

It was the failure of Ansett Australia on 11th September 2001 that allowed Virgin Blue to begin its rapid expansion. Whilst Virgin Blue had the capital to expand facilities at many Australian airports were near to capacity and the failure of Ansett gave Virgin Blue access to many of the failed carrier’s terminal facilities. Many former Ansett Golden Wing lounges became The Blue Room with pay-per-entry.

The initial Virgin Blue formula was similar to that pioneered by Southwest Airlines in the United States whereby flights were initially only available via the internet or a call centre. The initial business plan had called for the airline to operate purely as a point to point carrier with no connection with any other carrier. However the collapse of Ansett created the opportunity for links to be established with overseas carriers who had previously been linked with Ansett.

The first agreement was with United Airlines who placed their code on Virgin Blue flights from Sydney and Melbourne permitting passengers from the US to book through tickets onto Virgin Blue flights in Australia. In order to achieve this the airline made seats available to the travel trade via the Global Distribution Systems.

Further interline agreements were later signed with Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda and Vietnam Airlines, as well as Sky West Airlines in Western Australia.

Though the airline had began operations with leased Boeing 737-400 models, plus a single former Ansett 737-300 that was operated immediately following the failure of Ansett, the more fuel efficient Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 were introduced into the fleet starting in 2001.

Mr Borghetti quickly established a new direction for the airline. The loss making V Australia routes to Johannesburg and Phuket were rapidly axed and the airline began to seek joint ventures with other carriers.

A joint venture with Delta Airlines was established for routes to the USA, a joint venture with Air New Zealand was established for routes across the Tasman, a joint venture was established with Etihad Airlines for routes to the Middle East and Europe and a ten year agreement was agreed with SkyWest Airlines in Perth to operate eighteen ATR turboprop aircraft in Virgin colours on services, especially those based on Perth.

Perhaps Mr Borghetti’s biggest impact was to come with the complete re-branding of the airline. Rumours began to circulate late in 2010 when new Boeing 737-800 aircraft were delivered in a plain white livery. The airline began to source the market for A330-200 aircraft to operate trans-Continental services to Perth.

In a publicity coup three of the plain white aircraft were fitted with AFL decals to celebrate Virgin taking the AFL marketing contract from QANTAS in a deal worth over AS$5 million.

Rumours on the new airline name reached fever pitch whilst behind the scenes negotiations were made with Singapore Airlines to allow the use of the Virgin name on International services. Once that was successfully concluded a product launch was set for 4 May 2011 at Sydney airport. Boeing 737-800 VH-YFC and Airbus A330-200 VH-XFB appeared at the event wearing the new Virgin Australia livery of white with dark red and silver trim.

The aircraft both featured a dedicated Business Class cabin and the intention is to replace Premium Economy with Business Class on all prime business routes once sufficient Boeing 737-800s have been reconfigured. Business Class will see a full meal service provided with a menu by chef Luke Mangan. For the new services The Lounge was again re-branded as Virgin Australia Lounge.

Wide-body services from Sydney - Perth commenced with the A330-200s on 26 May  2011 with the aircraft also appearing on some Sydney - Melbourne services at weekends.

Rapid expansion saw the airline spread across Australia, including taking on QANTAS head to head on the lucrative Sydney - Canberra sector. This ended in failure when the route was withdrawn in 2004. However not to be defeated Virgin Blue returned to the route in 2008 once the the smaller Embraer e-jets were in regular service.

In 2004 the airline began International operations on the Brisbane - Christchurch route via wholly owned subsidiary carrier Pacific Blue. The use of the Pacific Blue name was due to Singapore Airlines inserting a clause into the deal where it took a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic that the Virgin Group could not use the Virgin name on any other International airline.

Pacific Blue operated Boeing 737-800s and expanded onto other trans-Tasman routes plus services to Pacific Islands and Denpasar in Bali. In 2007 Pacific Blue began domestic flights in New Zealand however these were not successful and were withdrawn in 2010.

In 2005 a joint venture was launched with the government of Samoa for operations from Apia to Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney. This venture was called Polynesian Blue and operates a single Boeing 737-800.

On board entertainment was introduced in 2006 with the Live2Air system fitted to most of the 737 fleet. Apart from the moving map this is a pay-per-view system with passengers swiping their credit card for access. During the same year The Blue Room became re-branded as The Lounge.

Premium Economy was introduced in 2008 with convertible seats fitted to the front three rows of the 737s. The Embraers had fixed seats but with greater legroom and finished in a different colour in the front three rows. The Premium Economy product included meals and drinks, free use of the entertainment systems, lounge access and priority boarding. At the same time the airline began charging for baggage for Economy passengers.

In 2009 longhaul subsidiary V Australia was launched with services from Sydney - Los Angeles. The initial plan for this airline called for a fleet of six Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to operate from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne - Los Angeles plus Melbourne - Johannesburg and Melbourne and Brisbane - Phuket. Services were also operated to Nadi for a short time.

In May 2010 Brett Godfrey, who had led the airline through its first decade, stepped down and was replaced by John Borghetti, a former QANTAS general manager, as Chief Executive.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800