July 5th saw yet another International service launch from Melbourne International Airport.

And in what has become a common occurrence from the fantastic staff at Melbourne International Airport, the morning was launched a distinctive flair with a huge Chinese Dragon, drums and Chinese Lion following a procession of Virgin Australia staff into the terminal.

Virgin Australia launched its first Melbourne to Hong Kong service with the founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson being a part of the festivities. The Chinese Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo brought their fantastic Dragon along ,which was paraded to the drums into the terminal with Sir Richard bearing the head as the Dragon marched around. The 32-metre Dragon Yar Loong was pride of place in a traditional procession to celebrate the milestone for the airline.

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Yar Loong awaits its special guest.

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Not something you see everyday entering an airport terminal.

Once at the gate the dragon’s head was lifted, with Sir Richard revealing himself to the awaiting crowd of customers, staff and media.

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Surprise! Sir Richard Branson makes his entrance to the waiting media.

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Sir Richard said “I’ve been a lot of things in my time but never a Dragon, something I’m very honored to do”.

Sir Richard noted, “I am so delighted to see Virgin Australia fly to Hong Kong for the first time. Both Melbourne and Hong Kong are such vibrant, fantastic cities and to be able to connect them with the world’s best Business Class and the best cabin crew is truly exciting”.

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Sir Richard and CEO of Virgin Group John Borghetti were proud of their airlines success and took questions from the media.

Virgin Australia Group CEO and Managing Director John Borghetti was also present today and was noted saying, “Today’s inaugural flight marks the start of Virgin Australia’s expansion into Greater China. Hong Kong’s diverse cultural fabric has long been a draw card for many Australians, as has its appeal as a stepping stone into Greater China. Through Virgin Australia’s direct services to Hong Kong and our partnership with Hong Kong Airlines, Australians can enjoy convenient travel to Greater China. “Virgin Australia is renowned for bringing choice and competition and since our flights went on sale we have seen our competitors discount their Melbourne-Hong Kong fares by as much as 34 per cent compared to before our fares were launched”.

The launch of today’s service is part of the much larger plan of Virgin’s which will hopefully, once service slots at Chek Lap Kok are secured, see flights from Sydney and possibly Brisbane to Hong Kong.

Airbus A330-243, VH-XFD operated the inaugural VA87  Virgin Australia service.

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VH-XFD Virgin Airbus A330-243 takes the honor of operating the first flight.

Virgin will be flying the Airbus A330-200 and will operate five services per week to the city. The A330-200 fleet features the airline’s award-winning Business Class suites, ‘The Business’, which is recognised as the world’s best Business Class by Airline Ratings , as well as 255 economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.Virgin currently operates 6 of the type.

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VH-XFD lines up on runway 34 at the start of the flight to Hong Kong.

The service is operated in conjunction with part owner HNA Aviation, which will enable travelers to connect to 13 more destinations in mainland China through the HNA group of Airlines (including Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Capital Airlines and Tianjin Airlines).

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Capital Airlines is part of the HNA group of airlines and already has services to Melbourne.

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Hong Kong Airlines again part of the HNA group of airlines.

Velocity Frequent Flyer members will also be able to earn Velocity Points and Status Credits on these flights.

Aviation Spotters Online wishes to thank Melbourne International Airport for its corporation with assembling this article.