Virgin Australia Begins Wi-fi Deployment Phase.jpg

Virgin Australia Begins Wi-fi Deployment Phase

Carrier targets next year as completion date for rollout on its fleet.

Virgin Australia is starting the fleetwide rollout of its onboard wi-fi service, and plans to have a large proportion of its domestic and international jet fleet retrofitted by the end of 2018.

Following a three-month trial period on one of its Boeing 737-800s, the carrier essentially began the broader installation by deploying wi-fi on a second 737. While the carrier is not revealing the timing for the third aircraft, it will progressively work on the rest of its 737 fleet.

Wi-fi service on the first of Virgin’s Boeing 777-300ERs is due to start in October. By the end of 2018 the airline expects to have retrofitted all of its 777s and most of its 737s, with its Airbus A330s due to be completed by the second half of 2019.

The 737s that fly on short-haul international routes will be included in the wi-fi rollout, although the carrier is not confirming where they will fit in the retrofit schedule. The 777s are all used internationally, as are some of the A330s. The latest wi-fi announcements do not apply to Virgin’s LCC subsidiary Tigerair Australia.

Virgin said 90% of its fleet will receive the wi-fi service. However, the roll-out does not include its Embraer E190s, ATRs and aircraft operated by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines.

So far, wi-fi has been offered for free on the initial aircraft. The carrier plans to introduce a new domestic pricing model including a free basic service and a paid premium service. It has not yet announced its charging model for international flights.

Virgin is working with Gogo and Optus Satellite to provide a high-speed service capable of streaming content from providers such as Netflix.

The new details on Virgin’s wi-fi program were unveiled on the same day the carrier announced its results for the fiscal year ending June 30. The Virgin Australia Group reported a net loss of A$185.8 million ($146.5 million) for the year, an improvement of A$38.9 million from the previous year.

The net loss includes significant costs from the airline’s restructuring program. Its full-year pre-tax underlying loss was A$3.7 million, versus a profit of A$41 million a year earlier.

Virgin said it improved its underlying result in the fourth quarter compared to the previous year. The carrier expects its “positive momentum” from the fourth quarter will continue in the current quarter, and predicted another year-on-year improvement.

Group traffic was up by 0.7% on a 0.4% decline in capacity. Load factor increased by 0.8 points to 80.2%. Mainline domestic yield was down by 1.5%, while international yield increased by 2.1%.

The mainline fleet included 108 aircraft as of June 30, down by eight year-on-year. The carrier has 77 Boeing 737s, two more than a year ago, with the total split equally between leased and owned aircraft. The biggest change came in the Embraer E190 fleet, which dropped from 16 to seven. Virgin intends to phase out this type entirely by the end of the current calendar year.

For the broader group, including Tigerair and charter operations, the fleet declined by eight aircraft to 141 as of June 30.

Separately, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) granted formal approval for Virgin Australia’s strategic alliance with the HNA Group carriers. The ACCC had granted draft authorization for the partnership in June.

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