Virgin Australia (VA, Brisbane Int'l) has announced ambitious plans to dry-lease a further ten B737-800s, as it looks to return to 100% of its pre-COVID capacity by the end of this year. The move will see 220 crew members return to work and an additional 150 new hires.

"More aircraft means more flying, and with easing travel restrictions, there are more opportunities to further support domestic tourism and the nation’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Today, we are operating around 850 weekly return flights, and as we approach the June school holidays, we will add another 220 return flights per week to our schedule. By mid-June, we expect to be operating more than 80% of our pre-COVID domestic capacity," chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said.

The airline said it had already reached an agreement with lessors to add the ten B737-800s. All of them were previously operated by the airline but were returned during its bankruptcy restructuring proceedings last year. The first three are due to deliver in April 2021, while the other seven will be gradually reinducted through October 2021.

Virgin Australia said it was "investigating" further fleet expansions.

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, the carrier operates forty-four B737-800s, of which 16 are owned by the airline and 28 dry-leased (as well as two owned B737-700s). It reduced the fleet from fifty-nine -800s as of January 2020, of which eighteen gradually returned to lessors between March and October 2020, the ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows. Five out of these eighteen B737-800s have since been redelivered to local rival Rex - Regional Express which is using them to enter the trunk Australian market. Virgin Australia also inducted three -800s in March 2020 (transferred from its subsidiary Virgin Australia International) and one in December 2020 (transferred from discontinued subsidiary Tigerair Australia).

Virgin Australia International operates a further fifteen B737-800s on behalf of its parent. The group's narrowbody fleet also comprises five A320-200s operated by Virgin Australia Regional.

Virgin Australia said it was also planning to expand its wet-lease agreement with Alliance Airlines (QQ, Brisbane Int'l) to include Fokker 100 regional jets deployed from Brisbane Int'l to Alice Springs and Mount Isa as of April 19, 2021. Currently, Alliance Airlines only operates Fokker 70s on behalf of Virgin Australia, while the two routes are operated by Virgin using the inhouse B737-800s.

The carrier also announced a host of new routes: