Virgin Australia boss Paul Scurrah to step down, former Jetstar CEO Jayne Hrdlicka to take over


Former Jetstar boss Jayne Hrdlicka will take over as chief executive of Virgin Australia from Paul Scurrah by November.

Ms Hrdlicka, who was part of Bain Capital’s successful bid team to take control of Virgin Australia, was previously chief executive at Jetstar and A2 Milk.

Virgin went into voluntary administration with hefty debts in April, as the coronavirus pandemic brought the airline industry to a halt.

The sale of Virgin to Bain Capital was finalised last month, following commitments to retain as many jobs and services as possible.

Virgin’s administrator Deloitte believes Bain will maintain Virgin as a full-service airline, despite suggestions the US private equity fund plans to make it a low-cost carrier.

Mr Scurrah will leave the airline once the sale to Bain is formally completed early next month, administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said.

He thanked Mr Scurrah for his “exceptional leadership” during the sales process.

“It is a testament to his leadership that we have been able to complete this sale and the business is well positioned to play its vital role in the rebuilding of the Australian aviation industry and economy more broadly,” Mr Strawbridge said.

He added that, despite speculation about the shape of the airline in the future, he had reaffirmed with Bain Capital that Virgin Australia would not be repositioned as a low-cost carrier.

“This will appeal to the full spectrum of travellers, from premium corporate through to more budget-focused customers.”

Ms Hrdlicka said she understood airlines and the business.

“I appreciate Virgin Australia’s unique culture and I want to protect and build on it,” she said in a statement.

“And I am determined that Virgin Australia reinvigorates its strong brand and its passion for customer service, while embracing the diversity, talent and strength of its people.”

Outgoing CEO says airline ‘in good hands’

Mr Scurrah said his time as Virgin CEO during the past 18 months had been “the most challenging time in aviation history”.

Virgin Australia boss Paul Scurrah looks off to the right while standing behind a model plane.
Paul Scurrah says his time as Virgin CEO came during “the most challenging time in aviation history”.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

“Having seen the company through COVID-19, voluntary administration, the sale to Bain Capital and the redesign of the business, I will be stepping down as CEO and managing director,” he confirmed.

“I have made this decision after some long discussions with my family. The time feels right, and I know the business will be in good hands.

“I am proud of that work that has been completed to date to transition the business and remove complexity, allowing the airline to compete effectively once demand returns.”

Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy said Mr Scurrah had provided the leadership to allow Virgin Australia to emerge from voluntary administration as a “well-capitalised, best-in-class carrier”.

“His personal commitment and determination to lead Virgin Australia through such a turbulent period is a credit to him,” Mr Murphy said.

But he added that the challenges facing all airlines were “extraordinary, and Virgin Australia requires a different form of leadership to survive in the long term”.

“Jayne is the right person to take the business forward under Bain Capital’s ownership.

“She has extensive airline experience and I know she, alongside Bain Capital, wants nothing more than to see Virgin Australia prosper and thrive well into the future.”

The news of Mr Scurrah’s departure is no shock to experts who understand the way Bain Capital operates.

Private equity expert Eileen Appelbaum told ABC News in August that it was unlikely Mr Scurrah would last in the job long under the new owners.

She said CEOs often felt loyalty to their staff and customers, setting up a potential conflict with a private equity firm’s desire to make quick money before re-selling a business.

Unions express concerns Bain won’t honour its commitments

Mr Murphy said Bain was committed to the strategy Virgin Australia announced in August, when the company outlined its plans to protect thousands of jobs, invest in technology and honour all employee entitlements.

But unions have expressed concerns that the private equity fund may not stick to its promises.

Australian Services Union (ASU) assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske said she was deeply concerned that Bain was reneging on its commitment to keep Virgin a full-service airline.

“If Bain starts to unwind these commitments and move towards a model of a low-cost carrier, this raises very significant concerns about job security for Virgin workers.”

She said Bain had made significant commitments to employees and company creditors during the sale process.

“Any departure from this would be a massive breach of trust by the new owners.”

Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said his union still had serious concerns that Bain would not stick to its commitments regarding keeping regional routes, the international division, 6,000 jobs or fleet numbers.

“We are seeking a meeting with Bain Capital to discuss these issues and our delegates will decide in the coming days about the future of industrial talks with the airline,” he said.

“We sincerely hope that the veil of secrecy and background shenanigans on display over the past few days is not repeated. Trust must be at the heart of Bain’s dealings.”

He said the Federal Government also needed to hold Bain Capital to account.

“The Federal Government has presided over a model of ‘no-strings corporate welfare’ where the pay packets of airline executives are protected but aviation workers, regional Australia and businesses in travel and tourism dependent on aviation are cut off,” he said.



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Virgin Australia Bain takeover puts Paul Scurrah’s job in doubt


‘”This [Mr Scurrah’s exit] has been widely speculated but the ongoing denials from Bain have until now shut it down,” said one company source.

Another said company insiders had expected Bain to replace all of Virgin’s senior executives and management, with former Jetstar boss Jayne Hrdlicka – a former Bain executive who advised the firm on its bid for Virgin – expected to play a key role.

“We think they’re going down a budget path, and Paul doesn’t have budget carrier experience” the senior management source said.

Mr Scurrah successfully talked Bain around to backing his view, after the private equity firm’s local boss Mike Murphy earlier said he envisioned Virgin as a “hybrid” airline operating somewhere between Qantas and Jetstar.

Mr Scurrah’s ongoing involvement at the airline and vision for it to remain a full-service carrier with international operations was critical for Bain to win the support of Virgin’s 9000 workers over and vote in favour of its takeover offer last month.

The Transport Workers Union said it had suspended negotiations with Bain over a new enterprise bargaining agreement, and believed Bain was reneging on its commitment to maximise jobs, maintain a full-capacity network, full-service offering and to fly internationally.

“The ink is not yet dry on the sale of Virgin and it appears that private equity firm Bain Capital are behaving as we feared: ripping out the heart of Virgin and reneging on promises to the Australian people,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said in a statement.

“If the plan and scope of the airline as outlined in August by Bain Capital has already been scrapped then this is a serious betrayal that must be addressed.”

A suite of senior executives have quietly left Virgin in recent weeks following the approval of Bain’s takeover, but their departures have not been announced publicly. That includes chief strategy officer Michael Jones, head of corporate sale Anne Elliot and general manager of alliances and international sales Phil Squires.

One of the company insiders said that before the all-important creditors vote last month, “Bain were saying all the nice things about keeping as much of the workforce as possible”.



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Rex Airlines considers flying regional routes Virgin Australia dumped during coronavirus


Regional towns across the country could soon have new air services in the wake of Virgin Australia cancelling routes because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While international and state borders are closed, Regional Express Airlines (Rex) is weighing up whether to fly to towns that Virgin Australia abandoned, such as Port Macquarie and Tamworth in New South Wales.

Rex is based at Mascot in Sydney, and is the nation’s largest regional network aside from QantasLink.

Rex deputy chairman and former Nationals MP John Sharp also flagged other routes the airline could fly into.

“We think we can take up the slack in routes that we compete currently against Virgin, like Albury and Mildura, and also routes that Virgin’s already abandoned some time ago in Western Australia, like Perth to Geraldton,” Mr Sharp said.

He said the regional airline industry wouldn’t have survived without the Commonwealth Government’s support leaving many regional communities cut off from their capital cities.

Earlier this year, the Australian Government had provided a cash boost to regional airlines through the Commonwealth Grant Agreement through the COVID-19 Regional Airline Network Support program.

“As part of our return of the support that our company’s received from the Australian Government, we are prepared to operate services to communities where we don’t see any profit,” Mr Sharp said.

‘More planes in the air’

Speaking at a press conference in Wagga Wagga today, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack would not say if the Government would offer support to Rex should they take over the regional routes, saying they would have those discussions in the future.

Instead, he called on the premiers to ease the border restrictions.

Mr McCormack said he felt that in many cases the border restrictions were for political purposes, but they were restricting business, aviation, and “life as we know it”.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says many regional areas are under lockdown despite having no COVID-19 cases.(ABC Wagga Wagga: Melinda Hayter)

“We want to make sure that there are more planes in the air — planes in the air, jobs on the ground,” he said.

“Let’s get on, open those borders up, allow tourism to be what it needs to be, allow Australians to travel freely around their own country and get more planes flying interstate, that is so important.

However, Mr Sharp said opening borders prematurely could cause more harm to the aviation and tourism industries.

“It’s a fine judgment by governments, but one thing they do need to bear in mind is that a premature … lifting of border closures could result in another wave, and that’s going to do us a lot more harm,” he said.

Regional mayor commends Rex

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Mayor Peta Pinson confirmed Rex Airlines had been in contact.

The tail of a Virgin Australia plane on the tarmac, with other planes lines up behind it.
Virgin Australia has cancelled many of its regional routes as it continues its post-coronavirus restructure.(AAP: Darren England)

“I commend Rex for their forward thinking,” Cr Pinson said.

“Disappointed in Virgin — a little bit of heads up would have been nice to receive from them.”

She said it would make “perfect sense” for Rex to pick up the route.

“We’re a growing region … our commercial activity is high, we are a low-transmission area — we’ve had no COVID cases for many months now,” Cr Pinson said.

“They [Rex] will be well rewarded by our community, I would imagine.

The mayor said the council had received a lot of interest from other carriers after Virgin Airlines announced last week it was withdrawing its services.

“While some airlines are contracting, an airline is looking at their opportunities too,” she said.



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Virgin Australia walks away from eight regional routes across the country



Virgin Australia has moved to stop flying to nine destinations as it continues its post-coronavirus restructure.

The airline today announced it would scrap regional flights to Uluru, Tamworth, Port Macquarie, Albury, Hervey Bay, Cloncurry, Mount Isa and Mildura for the “foreseeable future”.

Additionally, its international service from Sydney to Tonga will not be resuming.

In a statement, a Virgin Australia spokesperson says it is not commercially viable to operate flights to the affected destinations with the expected demand.

The airline is restructuring its fleet to primarily use Boeing 737 aircraft, removing smaller planes commonly flown to regional destinations.

The announcement follows the company entering into voluntary administration in April during which time it ceased flights to these destinations due to subdued demand.

One third of its workforce was made redundant.

Flight school dropped

In March this year, Virgin Australia pulled out of its plans for a flight training school in Tamworth, citing changed conditions within the industry as a result of the Australian bushfires and coronavirus, with no forecast for increased demand for new cadet pilots.

The Tamworth Regional Council commercial director for airport and aviation development, John Sommerlad, says Virgin’s decision to cease its Tamworth to Sydney route is not surprising.

“It wasn’t unexpected in view of the turbulent ride that the Virgin Australia Aviation Group has had in recent time,” he said.

“And also because of the impact the pandemic has had on airlines — not only in Australia but around the world.

“Without those aircrafts it’s unviable for them to use bigger jets to come and go from ports like Tamworth.”

Mr Sommerlad says Tamworth is currently in talks with other carriers to service the Tamworth-Sydney route.

Last week, United States private equity firm Bain Capital was announced as the new owner of Virgin Australia, with the largest group of creditors voting in favour of the $3.5 billion sale.



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Bain offers unions key advisory role in Virgin reboot


Virgin Australia’s presumptive owner Bain Capital has extended an olive branch to the airline’s unions in the form of a workers’ advisory council that will consult on how the carrier is relaunched from administration.

The establishment of the body made up of three union representatives, Bain and Virgin chief executive Paul Scurrah follows a union revolt over the US private equity firm’s choice of directors to oversee Virgin.

Virgin creditors, owed $6.8 billion, will vote on the ownership transfer to Bain this Friday.Credit:Getty Images

In a letter sent to unions on Sunday, Bain’s local boss Mike Murphy said he agreed to the unions’ request to establish a union advisory council, which will meet every fortnight until the end of the year.

“We see this confidential forum as an important opportunity to discuss key matters that go to the heart of Virgin’s recovery, including how we can secure long lasting employment for as many Virgin people as possible,” he said.



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From Nicki Minaj to FrankenMary, the Virgin Mary keeps on appearing in pop culture. This is why


When a hyper-sexualised rap artist channels the most holy “Mother of God”, is it blasphemy or art?

It can be both, says Matthew Tan, a senior lecturer in theology at University of Notre Dame.

“Operations of grace can actually be at work, even in attempts at transgression and blasphemy,” he says.

“If anything, it can communicate a very profound truth: that God can even be at work in these depictions.”

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This includes depictions, he says, like David LaChapelle’s photograph of rapper Nicki Minaj, which draws on religious iconography of the Virgin Mary.

It’s one of four photographs Minaj recently used to announce her pregnancy on social media. (The other three were more Harajuku-Barbie than Holy Mother.)

But Minaj isn’t the first celebrity to embody the Virgin Mary in a maternity photo shoot.

Singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter did so in 2017, announcing on Instagram — à la Mary — that she and husband Jay-Z were expecting twins.

One month after the birth, Beyoncé published another photo rich with Catholic iconography, only this time she was cradling her newborns, Rumi and Sir.

Sexy mothers and the stain of Eve

According to Kinitra Brooks, a scholar with Michigan State University English department, both Minaj and Beyoncé are challenging notions of race, purity, and motherhood through these photographs.

“[The Virgin Mary] is the first mother who doesn’t have the stain of Eve,” she says.

“So, she becomes this mother that we judge all motherhood by — which is just problematic.

Artists have visually interpreted the Virgin Mary for centuries. This painting is by Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (circa 1480).(Wikimedia Commons)

In Roman Catholicism, it is believed that Mary was conceived and born free of original sin. This is referred to as the “immaculate conception” — not to be confused with the “virgin birth”, the belief that Mary conceived and birthed Jesus while remaining a virgin.

Catholics uphold that Mary retained perpetual virginity throughout her married life.

This belief is disputed by other Christian denominations and some scholars, who point to biblical references that Jesus had brothers and sisters — though Catholics uphold these figures were cousins or children of Joseph from an earlier marriage.

“Jesus was one of many children, so eventually some fun was had,” Dr Brooks contends.

Dr Brooks believes that Minaj’s portrait, in particular, seeks to dismantle the idea that women lose their sexuality when they become mothers.

She adds that Beyoncé’s portrait with her twins not only references Catholicism, but also African spiritual symbology.

“I like to call it the Oshun photo shoot, because it has a lot of Oshun imagery mixed up with the Virgin Mary imagery,” she says.

Singer Beyoncé with her one-month-old twins Rumi and Sir, wearing veil, with flowers behind her.
Dr Brooks says Beyoncé, pictured with her twins Rumi and Sir, brings a “regal nature to black motherhood”.(Supplied: Instagram @beyonce)

Oshun, also spelled Osun, is a goddess or deity of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana.

She is associated with water, fertility and motherhood and, Dr Brooks says, is viewed as “the first woman to give birth to twins” within this African faith system.

Dr Brooks says Beyoncé has increasingly invoked African religious practices and deities in her music and imagery since that 2017 maternity shoot.

The artist’s latest visual album Black Is King, released last month, is a celebration of these influences. The film references Oshun through recurring themes of water and motherhood, and Beyoncé dons the yellow-golden tones associated with the deity.

Lyrically, the reference is explicit. In the track Mood 4 Eva, she sings: “I am the Nala, sister of Naruba, Oshun, Queen Sheba, I am the mother.”

Why black shouldn’t equal lack

Beyoncé and Minaj’s nods to the Holy Mother don’t just counter notions of purity, they defy assumptions about race, says Dr Brooks.

“They are definitely pushing back on the problematic construct of black motherhood,” she says.

“[That’s the idea that] ‘black mothers don’t get married, black mothers don’t take care of their children, black mothers are poor.'”

Instead, she says, these portraits celebrate black motherhood — endowing it with a blessed, regal nature — and reinforce Mary’s ethnicity.

A Mexican Catholic holds up a Virgin of Guadalupe statue, as part of the feast of the virgin, in Mexico City.
In Mexico, the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, is represented as a woman of colour.(Getty Images: NurPhoto)

According to Dr Tan, there are many representations of Mary as a woman of colour in Asian, African and South American communities.

“The most famous is the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, where she’s depicted as a black woman,” he says.

“God can be present through all of these cultures, and Mary is the kind of representative of that.”

FrankenMary and immortality

For Dr Tan, this idea — that God can be present in all cultures, all art forms — can be taken one step further.

He believes God can also be found in the kitsch, including the controversial statues made by French artist Soasig Chamaillard.

The works transform traditional Virgin Mary figures into pop culture icons — think Super Mario, Hello Kitty, Frankenstein, and the pink Power Ranger. In some, Mary cradles a baby Elmo or Pikachu instead of baby Jesus.

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“That’s one way of reading it, but I think it’s a very shallow way of reading it.”

Dr Tan thinks there’s more at play — like the juxtaposition between Mary’s eternal nature and the fleeting lifespan of the kitsch.

Roman Catholics believe Mary was assumed “body and soul” into heaven. That belief is celebrated annually during the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on 15 August.

“Mary stands as a symbol of hope for what we as Christians hope to achieve, which is this immortality,” Dr Tan explains.

And perhaps, he says, immortality is precisely what Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé are striving for as artists.

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Virgin staff told JobKeeper at risk if Bain deal voted down


Virgin Australia’s administrator Deloitte has warned thousands of stood-down workers that their JobKeeper payments might be cut off if a deal to sell the airline to Bain Capital is voted down at a creditors’ meeting next week.

Creditors owed $6.8 billion, including around 9000 Virgin staff owed $450 million, will vote on a deed of company arrangement (DOCA) to transfer ownership of the bankrupt company to the US private equity giant.

Around 4600 Virgin workers are stood down and receiving JobKeeper. Credit:

Even if the DOCA is voted down, Bain will take control of Virgin through an asset sale agreement signed in June following a fierce bidding process, which will require Bain to set up a new corporate entity to operate the airline.

Deloitte’s joint administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said in a video shared with staff on Friday that an asset sale could jeopardise access to JobKeeper payments for around 4600 employees, who have been stood down, while the airline flies a skeleton domestic network due to COVID-19 border restrictions.



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Virgin Atlantic saved from collapse as £1.2billion rescue package is approved


Virgin Atlantic says it has reached “a significant milestone in safeguarding its future” after creditors voted in favour for a £1.2billion bailout.

The move will protect the airline from bankruptcy and form part of a restructuring deal that will save the business £600million over 18months.

The vote was a key part of a court-sanctioned process being used by the airline to implement the deal.

It warned earlier this month it could run out of money by the end of September if the rescue package is rejected.

In a statement, the carrier said that its creditors had voted in favour of the proposal on Tuesday afternoon.

The airline added: “Today, Virgin Atlantic has reached a significant milestone in safeguarding its future, securing the overwhelming support of all four creditor classes, including 99% support from trade creditors who voted in favour of the plan.

“Achieving this milestone puts Virgin Atlantic in a position to rebuild its balance sheet, restore customer confidence and welcome passengers back to the skies as soon as they are ready to travel.


“The next step is an English High Court hearing on 2 September to sanction the Restructuring Plan.

“We remain confident that the plan represents the best possible outcome for Virgin Atlantic and all its creditors and believe that the court will exercise its power to sanction the Restructuring Plan, at a hearing scheduled on 2 September.

“A US Chapter 15 procedural hearing will follow on 3 September, ensuring Virgin Atlantic’s Restructuring Plan is recognised in the US, paving the way for the £1.2bn private only, solvent recapitalisation of Virgin Atlantic.”

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Today’s announcement comes three months after the airline announced 3,150 jobs losses, representing almost a third of its 10,000 UK workforce.

In May, the airline said jobs were on the line, as thousands of staff remained furloughed and top executives were forced to take a pay cut.

At the time, the airline said it would cease operations from Gatwick airport, to instead focus on Heathrow and Manchester Airports in an effort to save money.

Virgin Atlantic also said it plans to cut the size of its fleet from 45 aircraft to 36 by the summer of 2022.

The company is anticipating that customer demand will be at least 40% lower during 2020, with flights unlikely to bounce back to normal levels until 2021.





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Virgin bondholders pull sale plan after court blow


Broad Peak and Tor, which are owed $300 million, feared bondholders would receive as little as 10¢ in the dollar for what they are owed under the sale to the US private equity giant Bain.

They proposed instead that Virgin’s bondholders swap their $2 billion in debts for shares in Virgin, which would remain listed on the ASX. The plan won the support of major investment giants including Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UBS, and was backed by five former Virgin executives including co-founder Rob Sherrard.

But Justice John Middleton on Monday threw out their application to force Virgin’s administrators Deloitte to put the plan to a vote of creditors on September 4 alongside the Bain deal. Deloitte said the sale to Bain, agreed to in late June, is legally binding and precludes it from considering any other proposal.

The bondholders’ spokesman said they reserved their rights, however, to take further legal action to protect their interests when Deloitte releases its final report later this month, which will detail exactly how much creditors receive under the Bain sale.

Virgin’s joint administrator Vaughan Strawbridge told the airline’s staff in a note that the bondholders’ retreat was welcome news which meant Deloitte could focus on the agreement with Bain ahead of next month’s creditors’ vote.

“I know this has been an uncertain time for everyone, and I’m grateful to the work of everyone across the business in getting us to the final stages in this process,” Mr Strawbridge said.

Virgin creditors are owed $6.8 billion in total to creditors including banks, aircraft lessors and about 9000 employees.

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