Virgin Australia (VA, Brisbane International) will not debut the B737-8 on its inaugural Cairns - Tokyo Haneda service in June, instead temporarily deploying the B737-700 onto the route after Boeing failed to deliver the airline's first B737-8s on time.

"Due to an issue related to a Boeing supplier, there will be a short delay in the delivery of our first B737-8 aircraft," reads a statement issued by Virgin Australia on May 9. "As a result of the delay, we will operate our Cairns-Haneda (Tokyo) service using our existing B737-700 aircraft for a short period, starting from the inaugural flight on 28 June 2023."

The airline was expecting the first of four B737-8s due this year to arrive in February. They are still holding to a 2023 timeline for the four aircraft due this year, but have no confirmed exact delivery dates. Earlier this week, the first Virgin Australia-bound B737-8 registered as VH-8IA (msn 65045) left the paint shop at Renton. A further four B737-8s are scheduled to arrive in 2024. In addition, Virgin Australia has twenty-five B737-10s on order.

The launch of the Haneda flights was timed to coincide with the arrival of the first MAX aircraft. Getting the Haneda flights operating become a time-sensitive imperative under the use-it-or-lose-it slot regime now Covid-19 related waivers have expired. In early 2020, having secured landing rights in Japan, Virgin Australia planned to put an A330-200 on the Brisbane - Tokyo Haneda route. However, following Virgin Australia's entry into voluntary administration and sale to Bain Capital later that year, all the A330s have exited the airline.

Virgin Australia now primarily operates B737-800s, which do not have the range to fly the 5,864 kilometres between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda, let alone the longer Brisbane - Tokyo Haneda sector. However, the airline's seven strong sub-fleet of B737-700s can safely fly to Tokyo from Cairns in one hop, albeit with a slightly reduced passenger load.

Virgin Australia points out that aside from a new cabin and improved seats arriving with the B737-8s, passengers will not notice any difference between the two operating types. "The good news is that Virgin Australia customers will not be impacted and our schedule of Japan services will continue as planned," the statement said.

Notably, five of Virgin Australia's seven B737-700s do not offer business class cabins, the five being single-class-cabin, ex KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL, Amsterdam Schiphol) stock. They are VH-NBP (msn 38128), VH-NBV (msn 39446), VH-NHW (msn 39257), VH-NJV (msn 38634), and VH-NQI (msn 38635). The two remaining B737-700s, VH-VBY (msn 34323) and VH-VBZ (msn 34322), are longstanding Virgin Australia stock with a two-cabin-class fit out and will be the aircraft deployed onto the Cairns - Tokyo Haneda route. Presently, one of those planes, VH-VBY, is undergoing maintenance at Abu Dhabi International. It is believed that in order to complete the sector without a fuel stop, the 128 passenger capacity two class B737-700s will not fly fully loaded.

The almost eight hour sector between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda will clock in as Virgin Australia's longest flight. In addition to domestic passenger and charter operations around Australia, the airline also flies to short haul international destinations, including airports in Indonesia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Samoa.