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Virgin Australia’s first Boeing 737 MAX won’t arrive in time for the launch of the new Cairns-Tokyo route, with the airline confirming a widely-rumoured delay for the next-gen jet.
However, those direct flights between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda will still go ahead on 28 June 2023, only with a decade-old Boeing 737-700 in place of the factory-fresh MAX.
This will be one of two 737-700s fitted with the same business class seats as Virgin’s workhorse Boeing 737-800 fleet, the main difference being that the -700 version has the longer range needed for this route.
“Due to an issue related to a Boeing supplier, there will be a short delay in the delivery of our first Boeing 737-8 aircraft,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said in a statement issued today.
“As a result of the delay, we will operate our Cairns-Haneda (Tokyo) service using our existing Boeing 737-700 aircraft for a short period, starting from the inaugural flight on 28 June 2023.”
A statement released by Boeing says the delay stems from a “non-standard manufacturing process”, but adds “this is not an immediate safety of flight issue and the in-service fleet can continue operating safely.”
“However, the issue will likely affect a significant number of undelivered 737 MAX aeroplanes both in production and in storage.”
Virgin expects the delayed delivery of the 737 MAX will be measured “in weeks, not months” - although as of May 10, the airline’s schedule (which is of course subject to change) shows the 737 MAX moving onto Cairns-Tokyo as of August 9 2023, which should be treated as an indicative placeholder rather than a firm and final date.
The airline says once the MAX makes its long journey from Boeing’s assembly centre at Renton, south of Seattle, to Virgin’s Brisbane hangars, it will be slotted into the Cairns-Tokyo route following the usual round of routine regulatory approvals.
As previously reported, the Boeing 737 MAX will also see the debut of new business and economy class seating and herald another chapter in the airline’s return from collapse in early 2020 under new owners Bain Capital.
Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 MAX delivery schedule
- The first 737 MAX in Virgin Australia livery is now likely to arrive in July-August
- the airline has previously said two more 737 MAX jets were scheduled to arrive in the July-October quarter
- the remaining five aircraft from the 737 MAX 8 order were then slated to arrive “from Q4 2023”
That timetable will see Virgin with a four-strong 737 MAX fleet by the end of 2023.
In addiiton to Cairns-Tokyo, Virgin is pencilling in a growing series of domestic and short-range international routes for its MAX fleet, ranging from the Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane triangle and east-west services to Perth to overseas hops to Bali and Fiji.
“It will do a great job for us transcontinental (and) it’ll do a great job for us in more traditional short-haul international routes,” Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has previously remarked.
Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 MAX business, economy class
Each of Virgin’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets will be crowned by a new business class seat – although this is tipped to be the same design that’s being trialled on two of the airline’s Boeing 737-800s already darting around Virgin’s domestic network.
Hrdlicka is full of praise for the comfortable and well-appointed seats, which add a leg-rest and storage pocket lacking in the current business class, as well as AC/USB power outlets and a handy holder for tablet and smartphones.
“Our customers love them, and our crew love them too,” Hrdlicka has previously told Executive Traveller, adding the airline remains on a growth trajectory “and the MAX 8 is a modern fuel-efficient replacement” for its workhorse 737-800s.
The new concept economy seat offers a little extra legroom thanks to a slightly slimmer profile, with a fold-out device holder for the passenger’s tablet or smartphone and a handy USB port nearby (although this isn’t active in the seats Virgin is already flying).
And Hrdlicka has no qualms about flying on the MAX, saying the exhaustive testing following two fatal crashes and a global grounding makes it “probably the safest aircraft in the world today.”
Virgin 737 MAX vs Qantas A321neo
While the past two decades have seen Qantas and Virgin both flying the Boeing 737 as the backbone of their domestic inter-city networks, that all changes from the end of 2023, when Qantas will add the Airbus A220 – a game-changing jet capable of tackling inter-city as well as regional routes – with the Qantas Airbus A321XLR joining the fray from late 2024.
However, it appears the first Qantas A321XLRs won’t push that transformative envelope to include lie-flat beds in business class, with Qantas instead settling for an updated version of a premium economy-style recliner at the pointy end.