Virgin Australia’s first Boeing 737 MAX 8, VH-8IA, will touch down in Australia on Thursday.
The plane, nicknamed “Monkey Mia”, is the first of eight MAX 8 aircraft Virgin has on order from Boeing. It is earmarked for use on the airline’s Cairns-Tokyo (Haneda) route, due to launch on Wednesday.
Virgin has been awaiting the arrival of its first MAX 8, which was sighted on test flights in the US state of Washington last month and has suffered significant delays due to issues at Boeing. The airline announced two weeks ago that VH-8IA would arrive in Australia this month.
“Monkey Mia”, 1M002, first @BoeingAirplanes 737-8 for @VirginAustralia has rolled out of paint overnight at Renton. VH-8IA is the first of 25 737 MAX that Australian carrier has on order for their fleet renewal. pic.twitter.com/E8Xf04VuyI
— BFI Watch (@bfi_watch_ca350) May 8, 2023
“The arrival of Monkey Mia is a significant milestone in our fleet renewal program and broader transformation,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said.
“This aircraft will be followed by a further seven 737-8s, which will deliver an elevated experience to our guests as well as support Virgin Australia’s sustainability targets.”
The news comes as Virgin is set to launch its route from Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda) using its older 737-700 aircraft, with the MAX 8 – originally meant to fly the route – not arriving in time for Wednesday’s first flight. VH-8IA will fly domestically for a short time to familiarise crews and obtain regulatory approval before being pressed into service on Cairns-Haneda.
In April, Boeing told the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that supplier Spirit Aerosystems had advised it of a “nonstandard manufacturing process” used for fittings in the 737 MAX’s aft fuselage that could result in noncompliance with required specifications. This affects a “significant number” of undelivered planes, it said in a statement.
“We expect lower near-term 737 MAX deliveries while this required work is completed. We regret the impact that this issue will have on affected customers and are in contact with them concerning their delivery schedule,” the statement read.
“We will provide additional information in the days and weeks ahead as we better understand the delivery impacts.”
Virgin has ordered eight MAX 8 aircraft, all of which are affected by the delay, though its 25 MAX 10 aircraft are not expected to be impacted.
Bonza was the first Australian airline to obtain the MAX 8, which currently comprises the low-cost carrier’s entire fleet.