Virgin Blue gets a new name

Richard Branson (R) and Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti (L) arrive on the new airline's Airbus A330-200 at Sydney Airport.
Richard Branson (R) and Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti (L) arrive on the new airline's Airbus A330-200 at Sydney Airport. Photo: AFP

Richard Branson has finally unveiled one of the worst-kept secrets in Australian aviation.

The English entrepreneur and publicity seeker jetted into Sydney this morning aboard an aircraft emblazoned with the new name of Australia’s second-largest airline.

The renaming of Virgin Blue as Virgin Australia reflects a slightly more conservative approach to the airline’s branding as it attempts to snare a bigger share of the lucrative corporate travel market from Qantas - and restore its flagging fortunes.

British tycoon Richard Branson (C) and Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti (L) at the unveiling of the airline's new brand.
British tycoon Richard Branson (C) and Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti (L) at the unveiling of the airline's new brand. Photo: AFP

Apart from ditching the ‘‘Blue’’, the airline has also decided to drop the bright red body paint from its aircraft in favour of white. In other striking similarities to Virgin America, the aircraft tails will have the airline logo against a red backdrop instead of white.

Sir Richard said the Virgin Australia brand represented a new chapter for the airline: ''I'm absolutely thrilled with the new look and feel of Virgin Australia's domestic product and I know it will shake up the Australian travel market on a larger scale than it did 10 years ago.''

The rolling out of Sir Richard, the largest shareholder in the renamed Virgin Australia, comes as the airline confronts some of the toughest market conditions since it was launched in August 2000.

The airline has also successfully negotiated the renaming of its longhaul off-shoots V Australia and Pacific Blue, with both to be rebranded Virgin Australia.

A licensing agreement between Singapore Airlines and Sir Richard – the two shareholders of British long-haul airline Virgin Atlantic – had given them the right of veto over the use of the moniker on airlines which fly internationally.

Sir Richard has previously said it would be ‘‘nice to have a unified brand’’ for the various airlines associated with his aviation interests.

Disaster fallout

The carrier warned about a month ago that its losses will blow out to as much as $150 million in the second half due to the effect of natural disasters on travel demand, high jet fuel prices and weak consumer spending.

Shares in Virgin Blue were unchanged in early trading at 28.5 cents. The stock is down one-third in 2011 compared with a basically flat performance by the overall market.

The chief executive, John Borghetti, has made the strengthening of the airline’s brand one of his key priorities since taking over last year from its co-founder, Brett Godfrey.

It is part of a strategy to extract the airline from the no-man’s land between low-cost carriers such as Jetstar and Tiger Airways and Qantas in the full-service market.

However, airlines are renowned for frequently making changes to their brands. Qantas re-jigged the kangaroo insignia on the tail of its aircraft in 2007, while Air New Zealand’s redesign of staff uniforms more than a year ago was likened to making its flight attendants look like drag queens.

One of the challenges for the company had been to emphasise to consumers that its four brands – Virgin Blue, Polynesian Blue, Pacific Blue and V Australia – were one and the same.

But despite today's renaming of the domestic business, the airline may have to wait some time before it can use the Virgin moniker on its aircraft which fly overseas routes.

The airline will still need to enter negotiations with joint venture partner, the Samoan government, to rename its offshoot Polynesia Blue.

mosullivan@smh.com.au

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