[caption id="attachment_47559" align="aligncenter" width="610" caption="A350 MSN5, the all new wide body design just seen but not heard in Sydney and Auckland"]
Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti wasn't giving anything away as to what the airline might choose as a replacement for its 777-300ERs and A330-200s when he took a detailed look at the Airbus A350-900 making a world tour when it was in Sydney yesterday.
But he made it clear that evaluations had resumed and that there was a timetable for reaching a decision, while not disclosing when that choice would be exercised.
Borghetti and some Virgin Australia colleagues gave the jet, MSN5, a really thorough check out in terms of the cabin. He said "I kept asking myself what is making this such an impressive jet to be inside and it is the flat surfaces. You really notice the effect created by the straight walls and the flat ceiling and floor.
"This is a very impressive and competitive jet. The numbers are very competitive. "
[caption id="attachment_47560" align="aligncenter" width="610" caption="Airbus photo: Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti (left) and Isabelle Floret, senior VP Airbus sales on MSN5"]
Virgin Australia hasn't ruled anything out at the moment, and has added the Boeing 777-X to its considerations since that jet was launched with massive ordering support late last year, alongside the 787-9 Dreamliner and the most recently announced A330 NEO.
However these and the A350-900 he was examining close up all address different scenarios for the future development of Virgin Australia's wide body fleet and its network strategies, and with board seats now about to be occupied by major airline shareholders Air New Zealand, Etihad and Singapore Airlines there are a lot of priorities and possibilities to determine.
The flight from Sydney to Auckland
was an impressive look at what the A350 can be in passenger service starting with launch customer Qatar Airways later this year.
Especially as the favourable tailwinds gave it time to do a scenic tour of the NSW central coast and Sydney at low altitudes just after takeoff. Before heading across the Tasman MSN5, was given approval to make a planned missed approach to the long north-south runway in which is descended to 100 feet above the ground before it suddenly climbed away like a rocket.
It would have looked stunning from Sydney's terminals. Even under full and urgent power the engine noise was very low.
Jean-Michel Roy, Test Pilot for Airbus said the earlier flight to Sydney from Johannesburg did not have to be operated under any ETOPS rules but had been flown in the spirit of the regulations applying to regular airliners already in service. On that sector is had kept to the ETOPS 240 minute requirements allowing it to make the the flight in under 13 hours.
This afternoon when the A350 flies to Santiago, it will stay inside the ETOPS 300 minutes rules, which is a good indication as to where Airbus expects the regulatory environment for twin engined jets to go in relation to remote oceanic or polar flights.
After Santiago this A350 will return briefly to Toulouse and then continue on its last set of demonstration flights which will include Doha in Qatar and Perth, for a second visit to Australia. The A350 will be inaugurated into service in the fourth quarter of this year by Qatar Airways.
Roy said "We are flying it just like a mature reliable current airliner with many long sectors and to a schedule." He said the high composite built design hadn't missed a beat.
For those on board, this jet was a very good ride, with large locker space, a quiet cabin, and a cabin pressure altitude of just 6,500 feet, making it easier to sleep on longer flights by reducing the dryness that causes eye and throat and nose irritations that are one of the downsides of jet lag for some passengers on such routes,
The sales pitch for the A350 is that it has a role in operations where an A330 NEO with the similar new technology Rolls-Royce engines would make sense over shorter but frequent stages, and the newer and larger twin would operate those routes needing medium to long range capability with more capacity, and the A380 would ensure that on the major city-pairs the carrier did not leave hundreds of customers behind on services limited by airport slot availability.
While Virgin Australia's CEO John Borghetti wasn't committing to anything yesterday, that's a fleet strategy already embraced by two of his major shareholders, Etihad and Singapore Airlines, while Air New Zealand, the third such stakeholder, has opted for its new fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs supported by the first of ten 787-9 Dreamliners about be deployed on trans Tasman routes before flying Auckland to Perth, Shanghai and Tokyo services by year's end.