MIAMI — Virgin Atlantic’s founder, Richard Branson, said in an interview with Your Money that new nonstop flights from London to Perth might be launched soon, racing against Qantas’s current service between both cities.

Similarly, Virgin Atlantic would deploy its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on said service—the same aircraft type used by Qantas on the route.

Branson said in the interview he wants to launch the route “as soon as possible.”

This route would be potentially code-shared with Virgin’s Australian branch, Virgin Australia, onwards from Perth to Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, turning into a tremendous competitor against Qantas’s current offerings.

However, Virgin Atlantic’s current aircraft layout and seat density could prove bothersome for the airline. 

The airline offers 264 seats on its 787-9s, whereas Qantas has a more passenger-suitable configuration of 236 seats.

To launch this route, Virgin Atlantic might be forced to reconfigure some of its 787-9s, of which it has 17 in its fleet.

Virgin Atlantic 787-9 aircraft Birthday Girl.

Branson’s intentions to link the UK with Australia date back to 2003, when he hinted the possibility of acquiring former Air Canada Airbus A340-500s to fly the route.

However, things never materialized and Branson’s ambitions have been postponed ever since.

This would, therefore, be Virgin Atlantic’s first ultra-long-haul venture. The nonstop flight from London to Perth takes approximately 17 hours.

It remains to be seen how Virgin Atlantic’s biggest shareholders, namely Delta, will react to these pretentious plans as it may not want it deviating too far from its primary role as a trans-Atlantic carrier.

So Far: A Successful Route

Qantas is enjoying excellent loads on the 17-hour journey, suggesting there’s a strong market for nonstop flights between the UK and Australia.

The flights have been arriving between 30 minutes to an hour early on average, with some of these flights being quicker than the approximate 17 hours the flight is meant to take.

With the ultimate prize set on a coveted London-Sydney route, both Qantas and Virgin Atlantic patiently expect for an even longer-range variant aircraft.

Source: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic placed an order for 12 Airbus A350-1000 valued at $4.4 billion, with the first plane (MSN 274) expected to be delivered in 2019.

The British carrier canceled its long-dormant order for six Airbus A380s, which was placed in 2001.

“Following a thorough review of our fleet we have taken the decision not to pursue our order for six Airbus A380,” said Virgin Atlantic at the time of the cancelation.

This cancelation stemmed in new orders for the 12 A350-1000s that will begin joining the airline next year. “We believe the A350-1000 will best serve our customers and network, and will enable us continue reducing the carbon emissions from our fleet, through our ongoing investment in quieter, more fuel efficient aircraft,” the airline said.

Should Airbus upgrade the A350-1000 with ultra-long-range capabilities, the likelihood of seeing Virgin Atlantic tackling that London-Sydney route in the near future is tangible.

Same goes with Qantas, who are pushing both Boeing and Airbus to come up with a plane that gives them the possibility to fly the route, profitably.

Rumors are that British Airways is also looking to launch the route, not to stay behind in the competition, though nothing has been heard directly from the airline’s headquarters in London.

The carrier also has the Boeing 787-9 and could, very well, feed the flight with its strong network at London-Heathrow.