Airline industry titan Sir Richard Branson just claimed Virgin Atlantic would start operating direct flights between the UK and Australia, “As soon as possible.”
The comment, made during an interview with Your Money, a tech & lifestyle news program, has sparked a furore online, with Virgin Atlantic management back-pedalling from their ex-colleague’s comments (Branson still has a 20% stake in the company, but is no longer on the executive team).
“We don’t have any plans to launch flights to Perth,” a spokesperson told The Telegraph; “Richard was probably speaking in an aspirational sense.”
“Although our current fleet doesn’t have the right configuration for this route,” the spokesperson added, “We are always evaluating new destinations for our customers – and Perth is a great city.” So although Virgin Atlantic are downplaying their eccentric founder’s comments, there could be some truth to them after all.
— Financial Review (@FinancialReview) October 29, 2018
The British business magnate revealed his ambitions to compete with Qantas not long after it came out that the Australian flagship airline not only broke records when it launched the first nonstop scheduled passenger flight between the two countries, but also lapped up pre-tax profits of A$1.6bn for the 2018 financial year in August (a 14 per cent increase on last year).
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told The Independent: “The customers love (the direct Perth to London flight) and the seat factor that we’ve had on that service since it started in March is at 92 per cent, with the premium business class at 94 per cent; an amazing performance for a new operation.”
Although this is a good sign, it’s still not yet certain this flight route will prove sustainable for one airline—let alone two (especially when the latter is seen to be “catching up” as opposed to “innovating”, which serial entrepreneur Richard Branson may do well to remember).
That said, Virgin’s 787-9s are fitted with 264 seats, instead of Qantas’ 236, so maybe he’s onto something.