Parked up Virgin Airline Planes in Nelson City's Airport tarmac. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Lonely Virgins

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If you have visited Nelson Airport over the past few months you might be forgiven for thinking that the top of the south had become a new hub for a trans-Tasman airline.

Five Virgin ATR aircraft have been parked in the far corner of the airport for several months, but far from the beginning of something new for our region – it spells the end of something for the formally Australian-based aircrafts.

Early last year Air New Zealand’s regional maintenance facility gained the contract to service Virgin ATR aircrafts. It signed a five-year contract with Virgin to overhaul its ATR fleet.

However, it was only several months later that Virgin confirmed it would retire part of its ATR fleet that had serviced Brisbane as part of its “fleet simplification programme”.

The airline was retiring eight aircraft, thus ending its turboprop operations in Queensland.
In 2017, Virgin reported underlying profit before tax, which removes one-off items and is regarded as the best indication of financial performance, was AUS$42.3 million, a decline of 48 per cent from AUS$81.5 million in the first half of 2015/16.

A Virgin spokesperson says the company is in the process of selling and leasing its ATRs.

“Whilst these processes are underway, the ATR-72-500s are being stored at Nelson Airport,” the spokesperson says.

It is not clear whether the aircraft are owned by Virgin or being leased, as the spokesperson says the airliner does not discuss commercial contracts. It is also not clear how much longer the aircraft will remain in Nelson.