UPDATED: Virgin Atlantic Rumoured to be Ordering the A330NEO

According to Reuters, Virgin Atlantic is close to ordering the A330NEO. This is somewhat interesting for an airline that a recently as a decade ago was very pro four engined aircraft. Back in 2009, the airlines fleet consisted of the Boeing 747-400, the Airbus A340-300 and the upgraded Airbus A340-600, all of which were quad jets. They also had six A380 super jumbo’s on order. However, even by that point change was in the air. The airline had fifteen 787-9 twin jets on order from an order placed in 2007. Due to the delays of the 787 deliveries, in mid 2009, the airline ordered ten Airbus A330-300 twin jets for delivery from early 2011. Also up for consideration was the 747-8 and further A340’s. Come 2011, only two A330’s initially entered service with Virgin Atlantic with the other three being leased out for a year until the remainder of the order was delivered. By that time, the A340 (both the -300 and -600 variants) was starting to be retired and discussions were underway as to what the future of the Boeing 747 would be in the airlines fleet.
By the time the 787’s were finally delivered at the end of 2014, the fleet was roughly split between quad jets and twin jets – with the 747’s due to start being withdrawn shortly after. By now, the original plan was to have no four engined aircraft in the fleet but this plan was changed somewhat by the Rolls-Royce engine issues experienced with the airlines’ 787 fleet. Not only did the airline have to halt the retirement of the remining A340’s, it had to bring one back from storage to cover the shortfall. The airline also acquired four A330-200 aircraft on long term lease after their operator Air Berlin went out of business in 2017. Although quite how long they will stick around is unclear. Despite having oddball Pratt Whitney engines, the airline recently refurbished the four aircraft to bring them up to VS standard, so one could assume they will stick around for a while.
As of mid 2019, the fleet is a bit of a mixture, consisting of:
17 B787-9 the first of which entered service in 2014
10x A330-300 that entered service in 2011
8x B747-400 the oldest of which is a 1996 build
5x A340-600 that first entered the fleet in 2002, although the oldest is a 2005 build
4x A330-200 that entered service in 2017
The airline is also due to take delivery of their first A350-1000 imminently. For a fleet size of just 44 aircraft, that’s a huge number of different types to operate. Admittedly, the airline had probably planned on their fleet looking a little different at this point due to reasons outside of their control. With the introduction of the A350, it will allow the airline to be rid of the remaining 5 A340’s by the end of 2019 – of which the final flights are currently scheduled for October 2019. Unclear at this point is what will be happening to the remaining 747’s. I was under the impression that when they were refurbished around 2011-12 they would all be gone when their leases expired this year, and would be replaced by the incoming A350’s. Although all has been quiet on that front, so who knows. Maybe the rumoured A330NEO order would provide replacements for them? It’s rumoured a potential order would be for 6-10 aircraft, so accounting for the minor capacity drop between the 747 and A330, this would provide an almost straight replacement. Going forward, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the fleet consisting of 787’s and A350’s for the premium routes from Heathrow and A330’s for the holiday routes out of Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow. Either way, they could do with cutting down on a fleet type or two.
Update 17/6/2019
It was announced at the Paris AirShow this morning that Virgin Atlantic have indeed ordered 14 A330neo’s to replace their existing A330 fleet from 2021.

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