Virgin Australia will make a very substantive bid for ‘greater China’ traffic with its finally announced five times weekly Melbourne-Hong Kong flights using its own A330-200s.
These jets have what many including this reporter think is the best long haul business class suite on any routes out of this country.
Yes, that’s a big call, but there are some unresolved questions about Virgin’s longer term plans and for that matter, the realistic prospects for China-Australia flights if we annoy those who remind us of the fiction that Hong Kong is a truly sovereign entity independent from Beijing.
The flights start on July 5 and in using the proposed alliance with HNA Aviation and Hong Kong Airlines will enable passengers to connect through Hong Kong to 13 destinations in mainland China. It will also allow those flying Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Capital Airlines and Tianjin Airlines to connect onto Virgin Australia’s domestic and trans-Tasman network.
Australia announced an open skies agreement with China with almost no fanfare late last year, and like the Qantas group, Virgin Australia hasn’t exactly gone into full festive mode at the medium to longer term implications of that.
Instead it has focused on alliance building, and with the HNA group an equity partner in Virgin Australia Holding, sees opportunities to unlock the ‘new gold mountain’ to our north, to turn a Chinese phrase on its head, without actually hocking itself down to its socks.
There will no doubt be much more to come in relation to Virgin Australia’s China plans, and it is difficult to imagine that they don’t involve non-stops between PRC cities and other Virgin gateways in this country.
Consumers in China like non-stop flights much more than they like time and money consuming connections in China, or its Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong. Just like people in Melbourne detest making connection to fly to anywhere overseas from Sydney’s delightfully intelligently designed split purpose travel black spot.
Virgin Australia has avoided that Sydney problem with this significant move. However it will, one way or another, need to invest in, or ally itself with, much more non-stop capacity between here and China.