Virgin Australia to add seven more planes as demand rises

A rainbow from a passing rain shower sits over Virgin Australia aircraft at Sydney's Airport in Australia, August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo
  • Will have 84 737 NGs, down from 85 before pandemic
  • Targeting 1/3 share of domestic market
  • Bain Capital-owned airline competes against Qantas, Rex

SYDNEY, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Virgin Australia said on Thursday it would add seven more Boeing Co (BA.N) 737 NG planes to its fleet, nearly restoring it to pre-pandemic levels, to help meet a goal of obtaining a one-third share of Australia's domestic travel market.

Australia's second-largest airline said the agreed letters of intent would give it a fleet of 84 737 NGs, just one shy of the 85 it operated before it entered voluntary administration last year and handed back many of its planes to lessors.

The carrier, now owned by U.S. private equity group Bain Capital, competes against Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX) and Regional Express Holdings Ltd (Rex) (REX.AX) in a domestic market that is beginning to recover as states open their borders.

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"This fleet growth underlines the confidence we have in the future of our business and the industry generally," Virgin Australia Chief Executive Jayne Hrdlicka said in a statement. "Vaccination rates are rising, borders are opening, and demand is returning."

The airline said that all staff would be back at work by next month and that it would recruit for another 600 roles across the business. Many employees had been placed on unpaid leave because of lack of demand.

Qantas will also bring back all staff by next month at a time when it has reported a surge in bookings as states open their borders.

Rex this week announced plans to start flights on the highly-trafficked Sydney-Brisbane and Melbourne-Brisbane routes from next month.

Rex said it would offer one-way fares as low as A$69 ($50.16), in a challenge to mid-market Virgin Australia and Qantas' low-cost arm Jetstar.

($1 = 1.3757 Australian dollars)

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Reporting by Jamie Freed. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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