Virgin Australia joins the list of old and new airlines getting used 737-800s. But in their case, some of these new-to-them 737s, aren’t.
We have previously seen that the 737NG in general and the 737-800 in particular, is entering a new phase in its “career”. The introduction of and transition to the 737-8 and other MAX types, hasn’t been easy, to put it mildly. And when it comes to airlines with previously-existing financial issues, like Norwegian, troubles began to mount.
Virgin Australia had plans to replace its 737-800s with a fleet of 737-8 and later, 737-10 aircraft. But they, too, had financial difficulties before 2020. Some airlines had adequate liquidity to cope with the worst of the pandemic. Virgin Australia didn’t. The airline went into voluntary administration in April 2020.
Virgin Australia Focusing On (it’s?) 737-800s
The airline had expanded to include widebody types, like Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s. 2020 saw the retirement of both types, along with their ATR-72s. Today, Virgin Australia operates only 737-700s and 737-800s (their ‘Regional’ subsidiary has 5 A320s and 11 Fokker F100s). But finally there is some good news: the airline is expanding. At the moment, the airline has a total of 66 737NGs. By early next year, they want to have 77 of them.
Virgin Australia has already picked up three 737-800s, this past July, and more in the preceding months. Usually, putting a new plane in service is difficult, but not in the case of these jets. They already had Virgin Australia’s colours on them! The airline had previously returned them to their lessors, and now picked them up again. But crucially, the lease terms should now be more favourable.
The airline is under new ownership, since mid-2020. In the following months, new management “refocused” the airline, placing more emphasis on domestic routes. Virgin Australia will expand with more 737-800s, getting two more of its former jets in the next few months. But they will also get seven jets that previously flew for SilkAir. This airline has now merged its operations with its parent, Singapore Airlines.
An Overabundance Of 737NGs?
The 737-800s that Virgin Australia already has, have an average age of just under 10 years. Interestingly, the former SilkAir jets are a bit younger. As we saw elsewhere, there is currently an oversupply of 737-800s in the market, many of them with plenty of life left in their wings. This could see many of them get a new role, as freighters. But with lessors struggling to find homes for them, many will keep flying passengers, for years to come.
Nominally, Virgin Australia is still expecting to supplement its 737-800s with newer 737-10s. Those should come from 2023, or later. The airline has cancelled existing orders for 737-8s, the MAX equivalent to the 737-800. But they are still due 25 737-10s.
So once again, we see affordable 737-800s helping a struggling airline get back on its feet. As they start to get more cycles out of each jet, it will be interesting to see if Virgin Australia will decide to go for something more efficient. Knowing the length of the lease terms for these 737-800s, would have been interesting!