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31/08/2001

Virgin Blue Flying High After a Year of Operation

Virgin Blue Airlines, Australia's only low fare carrier, took to Australian skies 12 months ago today, introducing Australian travellers to sustainable low fare air travel and challenging the long standing "fat cats" airline duopoly.


After a year of fending off fierce competition, a record low Aussie dollar and high jet fuel prices, Virgin Blue has positioned itself as a profitable long term player in the domestic market, flying in the face of those who predicted the airline would never get off the ground.


Not one to miss a good party, Chairman, Richard Branson, arrived in Australia today to join his Virgin Blue team members in celebrating the milestone at a traditional aviation "hangar party" this evening.


Richard Branson said, "This time last year we probably took the greatest risk in Virgin Group history, launching Virgin Blue in an aggressive, unpredictable market and committing ourselves to $1.1 billion of new aircraft. There were so called industry experts who said Blue wouldn't get off the ground, then they said it wouldn't last….those people underestimated the power of the travelling public who were fed up with being ripped off.


It is clear to us today that we made the right decision breaking in to the previously uncompetitive domestic market and that is reflected in both an over 30% passenger increase on the routes we fly*, as well as Qantas's leaner financial results."


Virgin Blue posted a modest $500,000 trading profit in its first 7 months of operation, giving the airline confidence to move on to the highly competitive Sydney-Melbourne route but more importantly, proving the desperate need for a low fare airline throughout Australia.


Virgin Blue launched at 9.10am on Thursday August 31 last year, with one aircraft and one route (Brisbane-Sydney). The airline now operates 9 aircraft on 9 routes around Australia and is growing at a steady pace, today announcing plans to begin direct services between its home base Brisbane and Darwin in 2002.


The airline initially launched just before the Sydney Olympic Games period as a leisure service and is now positioning itself as a business product, with increasing routes and frequencies and an on-time performance priority.


Brett Godfrey, Virgin Blue Chief Executive said, "12 months ago the entire team shared a clear vision, and they've risen to the challenge to make the vision a successful reality. We've helped make air travel more affordable and more enjoyable and I am confident the next 12 months will be even more successful."


Richard Branson will arrive in Brisbane later this evening.


"I vaguely remember last year's great launch party and I have no doubt tonight's celebration will be just as memorable", he laughed.


Since August 31 2000 until end of August 2001, Virgin Blue has flown a total of 13,083 flights, the equivalent of flying 340 times around the world.


Virgin Blue operates the most modern, technologically advanced aircraft in Australia today, with an average age of less than 5 years, compared with Ansett's average fleet age of 11.7 years and Qantas with an average fleet age of 10.8 years. (Salomon Smith Barney 2001 Fleet handbook)


* Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services AVSTATS - period ended 30 April 2001