Virgin Blue Group chief executive John Borghetti and part-owner Richard Branson will unveil the 737, sporting the airline’s new livery and introducing the narrow-body aircraft version of its business class, in Sydney.
Its fast-tracked introduction into service marks the shift into high gear of the carrier’s campaign to boost its corporate market share from 12 per cent to 20 per cent.
The new plane will complement wide-body Airbus A330 services scheduled to start soon on routes between the eastern states and Perth and is part of a longer-term move to introduce premium travel across its fleet.
The latest phase of the airline’s reinvention is expected to be backed by an extensive print and television advertising campaign.
Branding guru Hans Hulsbosch, the man responsible over the past three decades for the look and feel of Qantas’s flying kangaroo, was charged with reinventing the airline to make it more appealing to business travellers and reducing the number of brands.
The airline has already unveiled aggressive trans-continental business fares as well as spacious business class seats on its A330s.
It plans to use its lower cost base to aggressively compete against Qantas, which has responded by adding A330 services and introducing Boeing 747s on Perth routes.
Changes already unveiled as part of Mr Borghetti’s “game change” plan include new flight attendant uniforms, a new in-flight menu designed by celebrity chef Luke Mangan as well as a new lounge in Sydney with novel kerbside access and dedicated security.
Mr Borghetti has also moved to forge alliances with overseas airlines such as Dubai-based Etihad, Air New Zealand and US giant Delta Air Lines to give corporate travellers an attractive overseas and frequent flyer network. He has nominated Asia as the next target in the coming financial year.
Still to come are details of redesigned lounges in Melbourne and Brisbane as well as new eastern Australia routes for Virgin-branded ATR turboprop aircraft operated by partner Skywest.
Surprisingly, Virgin has managed to keep its new livery under wraps. A new silver “flying lady” decal on the nose of the all-white aircraft prompted a flurry of speculation but was quickly removed. The discovery of a Virgin Australia logo on the federal government’s intellectual property website, IP Australia, sent speculation into overdrive over Easter but the airline denied it was part of the new branding.