Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka believes there is growing confidence thanks to the coronavirus vaccine rollout, and domestic borders largely staying open.
“The time is right for us to bring back jobs and put more aircraft in the skies,” she said on Thursday. “We are so pleased to have turned a corner from the worst of the pandemic.”
Her remarks came after she was forced to walk back comments to a business function in Brisbane on Monday, when she said Australia could not keep its international border shut indefinitely.
“We can’t keep (COVID) out forever,” she told that function. “It will make us sick but won’t put us into hospital. Some people may die but it will be way smaller than the flu.”
On Thursday she said she understood her words “taken in isolation may have hurt some people. If I had my time again, I would use different words to make the same point.
“The most vulnerable in Australia, and people who … want to be vaccinated, should have the opportunity to do that before international borders open.”
The furore threatened to overshadow the good news coming from Virgin Australia, which announced plans to expand its domestic operations, saying the vaccine rollout and open local borders have boosted confidence.
Virgin will be running 700 extra flights across Australia by October, including on five new routes focused on the country’s north.
Direct services are planned from Sydney to both Darwin and Townsville, from Adelaide to Cairns, Melbourne to Townsville, and Perth to Cairns.
The airline will also increase the frequency of services on existing routes, and has promised 250 new jobs. Those jobs are on top of 370 cabin crew roles announced last month.
Virgin made the announcement as Qantas said it would impose a two-year wage freeze for staff and offer voluntary redundancies for international cabin crew.
Qantas is forecasting a statutory pre-tax loss of more than $2 billion for the current financial year and expects to have lost $16 billion in revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Queensland will be a big winner from Virgin’s expansion plan, with flight frequencies to key destinations to rise by 40 per cent, including Brisbane, the Whitsunday Coast, Hamilton Island, Cairns, Townsville, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
Tasmania will benefit from an additional 50 weekly flights to Launceston and Hobart by October, up 38 per cent on the current schedule.
Services on the Sydney-Brisbane-Melbourne triangle will also grow to an average of 100 flights a day by October, up 30 per cent.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack addressed Virgin staff alongside Ms Hrdlicka in Brisbane, saying the airline’s turnaround was remarkable given the situation a year ago.
“It was a troubling time, it was a challenging time but we responded as a government, as a nation.”
He said the government’s decision to subsidise 800,000 half price tickets had the desired effect.
“We will continue to address the situation as it unfolds, we will continue to provide the necessary support.”