V Australia’s inaugural trans Pacific flights between Sydney and Los Angeles have been pushed back from 15 December to 28 February because of a strike that has shut down the Boeing assembly line indefinitely.

It needs the first two of its order for up to six Boeing 777-300ER jets (plus one on lease through IAG subsidiary ILFC) to reliably start regular flights. One of them is painted and looking ready outside the factory but has been held up by delays in cabin fittings, another supplier issue that is also hurting other 777 customers.

A bit of context is needed over the V Australia delays. Virgin Blue’s CEO Brett Godfrey has previously revealed that the airline did consider blinking about its plans to take on Qantas to the US. The $60 million or so that setting up V Australia is costing Virgin Blue falls across several financial years, but it has already made a good performance by the domestic operations of the parent carrier look weaker, and the dumping of the Toll shares in VBA in an edgy market that isn’t very interested in airlines has created a black cloud over its operations that its critics have done everything to make thicker and darker than dispassionate analysis would support.

Did Virgin Blue get its US strategy wrong anyhow? This may be the case, since by March the frequency of Qantas flights with its Airbus A380s will have risen to a level where they can push V Australia into a smaller niche than it may have hoped to secure.

The 777 is a superb airliner but on high traffic routes like Sydney-Los Angeles, the A380 wins in terms of revenue per available seat and passenger appeal in any class of cabin.

These latest delays may force V Australia to think even harder than it has up to now as to how it might better use the 777s on other Australia-US routes, perhaps out of Brisbane, where Qantas A380s mightn’t appear for another three years.

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