New Virgin Australia boss Paul Scurrah joins the airline as it swings towards more consistent underlying profits, but still faces a tough fight on the Tasman.
Scurrah, with 28 years in transport and tourism, has previous airline experience, including working for Qantas and Ansett Australia. He will succeed John Borghetti, who has headed Virgin Australia for the past eight years.
For the past six years Australia's number two airline has suffered statutory losses, peaking last year at $A681 million ($725m), although underlying profit before tax was $109.6m, an increase of $113.3m on the 2017 financial year and the highest since 2008.
In October guidance, the airline said it was on course to deliver an underlying profit of about $100m for the past six months, a result that will be announced next week.
Scurrah says he is focused on the bottom line, but best results come from having happy staff and happy customers.
Virgin Australia carries about 24 million passengers a year, with about 5 per cent of that capacity on the Tasman routes.
Its seven-year partnership with Air New Zealand ended acrimoniously last October and Virgin opted to offer full service as part of the ticket price, with an extensive marketing campaign launched around that strategy, and also beefed up its presence in this country.
Australian government figures for international airline activity for November show that Virgin's passenger numbers to and from New Zealand fell by 2.8 per cent to 95,000. The proportion of seats filled — or load factor — was 67.3 per cent.
Air New Zealand passenger numbers rose 9.3 per cent to 223,000 and 83 per cent of seats were filled. The airline is operating more widebody jets across the Tasman now and has put more capacity into Brisbane.
Virgin says November was the first month where its extra three routes were launched (with an extra 17 per cent capacity) and that contributed to the lower load factor.
A spokeswoman says the airline has been pleased with bookings from Australia (where it has a large frequent flier base) and Virgin Australia continues to build brand and marketing awareness in this country.
Scurrah, 51, is tight-lipped on plans for the business but says he will not be preoccupied with chasing market share. Virgin Australia has about 36 per cent of the Australian domestic market, the core of its business.
He says that while market share is an important measure of success, it isn't the only measure.
While working in aviation, he was a key figure in establishing Regional Express Airlines (REX), which emerged from the collapsed Ansett group in 2001.
He has spent the past 17 years in travel and logistics, including developing a global strategy for Flight Centre. He has worked at Queensland Rail, Aurizon and most recently was chief executive of stevedores DP World Australia.
He's also a non-executive director of Gold Coast Football Club.
Virgin Australia's chairwoman, Elizabeth Bryan, says Scurrah's appointment came after a six-month global search.
"Paul's highly relevant transport and logistics expertise and strong commercial background make him the ideal candidate to consolidate the group's achievements." Scurrah will move into the new role on March 25.
Borghetti has not spelt out what his next move will be — besides organising a grandchild's trip to Disneyland.
"John has made a significant mark on the aviation industry as a whole and Australian travellers have benefited because of his commitment and dedication to improving airline travel," says Bryan.
Scurrah will start on an annual salary of $1.3m, although incentives could more than double that. Borghetti, who faced criticism for his high remuneration while the airline suffered hefty losses, reportedly last year took a cut to $4.16m, down from $6.51m the previous year.