The wait for Virgin Atlantic’s daily service from Sydney to Hong Kong and London is finally over, with Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight touching down at Sydney Airport today. The flight marks the launch of Virgin Atlantic in Australia and a dream come true for its Chairman Sir Richard Branson, who disembarked from the aircraft in true Branson style - dressed in board shorts, surf board under the arm, ready to hit the surf at Bondi Beach.
Welcomed by traditional Aboriginal dancers and a Guard of Honour from Collaroy Surf Life Saving Club, Sir Richard said:
“It has been a long-held ambition of mine and everyone at Virgin Atlantic to fly to Australia. This is a dream come true for all of us.
“It is also a great day for the travelling public as Virgin Atlantic will bring much needed competition to this route, along with our award winning service and innovative products. Our new flights will also benefit the local economy to the tune of Aus$417m (£162m) per year.
“Geoff Dixon, chief executive of Qantas, said we would never fly to Australia and I am delighted to have proved him wrong! It is a shame however that he did not take up my wager which would have meant that he would have joined us on this historic flight - as cabin crew!”
The flight was piloted by chief pilot Captain Robin Cox and co-piloted by Captain Ricky Hill, a native of Sydney and former champion squash player for Australia. A third of the cabin crew onboard were from the UK, one third from Hong Kong and a third were Australian.
Commenting on the new services, Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, said:
“Passengers on this route have not previously experienced the level of comfort offered in Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class Suite. Never before have they been able to sleep on the longest fully flat bed in the world - complete with a proper mattress, duvet cover and hot water bottle. Never before have they been able to enjoy a private onboard bar to drink with their friends and never before have they been able to visit their own private inflight massage room. And it doesn’t stop there. Our passengers will be able to experience a reclining leather seat for take off, a place to sit and eat a proper meal opposite their partners, and four limousines per return trip. It really is a first class service at a business class fare - all at a price thousands of dollars less than BA’s and Qantas’ First Class.
“However, its not just business travelers who will benefit. Virgin Atlantic pioneered Premium Economy service, launched over 12 years ago, which offers a 38” seat pitch, wider seats, priority check in and a range of other services - all for a fully flexible economy fare! And economy passengers get the same award winning inflight entertainment as the rest of the plane. Shown on their own 9” screens, on a state-of-the-art system, they can enjoy video on demand and over 300 hours of films, TV and other entertainment. You’d have to fly between Sydney and London at least eight times to watch it all!
“As the route builds we will fly the new A380 ‘superjumbo’ aircraft to Sydney - meaning that the route will move from the world’s longest aircraft - the A340-600 - to the world’s largest aircraft.”
Commenting on the BA and Qantas Joint Services Agreement (JSA), Sir Richard Branson, said:
“I know that Aussies always support the little guy taking on the big corporate and this is a battle Virgin Atlantic is definitely facing in the Australian market. Qantas and BA between them account for around 70 per cent of the business travel market. This is largely due to the JSA, which allows them to collude on fares and schedules between Australia and London. Despite this market dominance and the fact that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has actually found that the JSA does and will continue to have adverse effects on both the business and leisure markets, the ACCC are currently proposing to renew this agreement. We don’t think this is in the best interests of competition and it is definitely not in the best interests of Australia’s business and leisure travellers.”
Commenting on Virgin Atlantic’s relationship with Virgin Blue, Sir Richard Branson, said:
“Virgin Atlantic’s passengers will be able to link up with our sister airline Virgin Blue to fly from Sydney to every major city in Australia. Virgin Blue now accounts for over 30 per cent of the Australian market, which is remarkable for an airline launched only four years ago. Our passengers will be able to earn vouchers, which they can redeem on Virgin Blue flights, and will soon enjoy code-share services between Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Blue.”
Commenting on the Virgin Group’s presence in Australia, Sir Richard Branson, said:
“Australia is an extremely important market for Virgin. We have almost $1bn worth of investment in Australia and we employ almost 4000 people - the largest number of Virgin employees in any country other than the UK! I first came to Australia many years ago and since the launch of Virgin Blue have spent much time here. I have always felt extremely welcomed by everyone I’ve met, so much so that it is like a second home to me now.
“In fact I like Australians so much we have employed quite a few of them at Virgin Atlantic. As well as pilots like Ricky Hill, two members of our top team are from down under - Lyell Strambi, our Chief Operating Officer and Matt Lee, our Director of Flight Operations. They are both great guys and I am pleased to be able to bring them home on this flight.”
Virgin Atlantic flies to 23 destinations worldwide, including Sydney, with more destinations planned for 2005 including Havana and Nassau. The airline has flown over four million passengers this year and plans to grow further next year through a mixture of new routes and extra capacity on Virgin Atlantic’s network and the establishment of new airlines such as Virgin Nigeria across the world’s developing aviation markets. Virgin Atlantic has 29 aircraft in its fleet with an average age of under six years.