Ramping up ... Richard Branson's V Australia will add South Africa and Thailand to its destinations.

Ramping up ... Richard Branson's V Australia will add South Africa and Thailand to its destinations. Photo: Reuters

V Australia is ramping up its international operations by launching direct flights to Phuket and Johannesburg.

The Virgin Blue offshoot will commence twice weekly direct flights from Brisbane to Phuket, Thailand, on November 22 and direct flights once per week from Melbourne to Phuket on December 3.

It will also commence direct flights from Melbourne to Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 13, 2010.

To celebrate the launch, special sale fares to Phuket and Johannesburg will go on sale Monday, August 17, at 1400 AEST on the airline's website.

British billionaire and showman Richard Branson has declared war on Qantas and other rival airlines with the launch of his new fleet of V Australia passenger jets to fly the Australia-US route. Click for more photos

Branson launches V Australia

British billionaire and showman Richard Branson has declared war on Qantas and other rival airlines with the launch of his new fleet of V Australia passenger jets to fly the Australia-US route. Photo: AP

Flights to Phuket will be on sale for $399 one way in economy class, $899 one way in premium economy class and $1499 one way in business class.

Flights to Johannesburg will be on sale for $1899 return for economy class, $2999 return for premium economy and $5999 return for international business class.

All fares are fully inclusive of taxes and surcharges.

The airline is also strengthening its focus on Melbourne, launching twice weekly flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles from December 1.

Virgin Blue chief executive Brett Godfrey said the airline believes its new destinations offer very exciting opportunities.

"Travellers outbound will experience Australian aviation at its best to the USA, Thailand and South Africa and we have high hopes for inbound tourism as we work with partners in our new markets to help develop traffic into Australia via Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne," he said today.

V Australia launched in February on the Sydney to Los Angeles route and commenced operations between Brisbane to Los Angeles in April this year in a difficult market.

In the latest sign of the extent of the difficulties it is having on the trans-Pacific route, V Australia has delayed the start of flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles by three months to December 1 and will offer only two services a week instead of the planned three.

The delivery of V Australia’s fourth 777-300 has also been delayed slightly to next month.

Virgin Blue’s chief executive, Brett Godfrey, said flying to South Africa earlier than planned was a better way for the airline to "spread the risk".

"It’s not a desperate measure – it’s far from it. It would be desperate if we just left the plane parked in Sydney for nine hours," he said today. "As far as I was concerned the trans-Pacific had more than enough capacity at the moment and I was loathe to put more on until things turned."

The fledgling carrier is already using three 777s to maintain daily services between Sydney and LA and thrice weekly between Brisbane and the US.

Mr Godfey said the regional market had "proved resilient" compared with long-haul routes to Europe, which had been "decimated", while the US "was in the same ballpark" as Europe.

The trans-Pacific route has turned in just six months from a cosy duopoly between Qantas and United Airlines to one of the most competitive long-haul routes out of Australia following the entry of V Australia and US carrier Delta Air Lines.

Mr Godfrey said he doubted the international travel market would deteriorate further but it was still too early to predict whether an improvement was imminent.

"We have been bumping around the bottom .... [but] I don’t think it’s going to get any worse. We are not seeing the depths of last March," he said.

V Australia last week applied for approval from the International Air Services Commission to begin daily return services to Nadi from December, as well as the right to replace Pacific Blue’s 737-800s on the between Sydney and Fiji.

But insiders say the Australia-Fiji route has never been highly profitable because the vast majority of the traffic is with lower-yielding leisure passengers while the freight market is small.

with AAP

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