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The airline planned the Haneda route pre-pandemic but has now changed the point of origin in Australia.
By Adrian Schofield
Virgin Australia plans to launch a flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) next year using narrowbody aircraft, which will allow it to finally make use of a Haneda slot it gained before the pandemic.
The carrier intends to introduce daily flights from Cairns (CNS), on the northeast coast of Australia, to HND from June 28. Virgin was previously planning to launch a Haneda flight from Brisbane (BNE) in March 2020, but the service was shelved due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Cairns flight is still subject to regulatory approval. Virgin will use the capacity allocation that was initially awarded by Australian regulators for the Brisbane-Haneda flight. The airline has had to apply for extensions to the slot authorization period to prevent it from expiring.
Virgin will use Boeing 737-8s for the 7 hr. 45 min. flight from Cairns to Haneda. It no longer has widebody aircraft in its fleet, after phasing out its Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s during its restructuring process in 2020.
The carrier reached agreements earlier this year for the lease of eight 737-8s, which are due to begin arriving in the first half of 2023. It also has orders for 25 737-10s.
The Cairns-Haneda flight marks Virgin’s first foray into long-haul flying since its restructuring. It has focused mainly on its domestic network since then, with a handful of flights to short-haul international destinations using its 737NGs.
Virgin currently relies on its international partner airlines for long-haul connections. However, CEO Jayne Hrdlicka told Aviation Week Network in June that the carrier was considering its options for returning to long-haul flying using its own aircraft, and was in discussions with manufacturers.
Hrdlicka indicated that such moves would generally be a longer-term prospect, although using the Haneda slot would be a more immediate priority.
In conjunction with the new service, Virgin will strengthen its strategic partnership with All Nippon Airways.
Virgin would not comment on the seating configuration it plans for the Haneda flights, although it said it will offer three seat categories: economy, economy with extra leg room and business class. Onboard wifi will be available during the flight.
Cairns is the seventh-largest domestic operation in Virgin Australia’s network. The carrier has 150 flights per week to and from Cairns, including daily flights to Australia’s state capitals.
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