Brett Godfrey, Virgin Blue CEO
Australian Story - 3rd August 2000
Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Producer: Claire Forster
Researcher: Tanya Sakzewski
Im Claire Forster and Im one of the producers
working behind the scenes on Australian Story. When
Richard Bransons Virgin group announced plans
to start a new Australian Airline it sparked intense
public interest. Shortly after the Virgin announcement
another airline, Impulse announced its intention to
upgrade its operations and the scene was seemingly
set for a new era of competition and cheaper airfares.
Numerous media outlets, us included, approached Virgin
for access to go behind the scenes. Branson has never
been publicity shy but for the record key people in
his group argued against allowing the cameras inside.
In the end we were given the go ahead and even when
things started to go wrong Australian CEO Brett Godfrey
and his locally recruited team stuck to their word
and allowed us to keep filming. This is their story.
BOLGER, Media Manager: Its just a roller coaster
ride. I mean one minute Richards out here and
everythings fantastic and were all hugging
each other going isnt this what weve been
working towards isnt it great. And then we all
come crushing back down because theres issues
and you just it really is a roller coaster ride. And
everyday you wake up and just think Oh my gosh whats
going to happen today. You dont build up an
airline on fun and games. You just cant.
BRETT GODFREY, CEO: Its day by day from here
in weve got a fairly tight schedule, which weve
brought on ourselves. A slight spanner in the works
Im still trying to get to the bottom of it Im
waiting on some calls back from CASA, which I hope,
to this afternoon. So my people are starting to think
about what will happen if for instance we dont
get over this hurdle and it gets too close.
SIR RICHARD BRANSON, Group Chairman: One day we were
flying between London and Brussels on a Virgin express
plane. Brett was on board and there were a couple
of Australian pilots in the cockpit and they were
desperately wanting to come home to fly in their own
BRETT GODFREY: He was sitting in the cockpit as he
often does just chatting away with the crews and said
"its making a huge mistake by not setting
up Virgin in Australia and because of the high airfares
and Qantas" and that was like a red rag to a
bull to Richard.
RICHARD BRANSON: If we hadnt been on that particular
flight at that particular time Virgin Blue would never
BRETT GODFREY: We had a particularly tough time at
Express over the last eighteen months and thats
where I sort of came to his attention and I guess
I did okay and for that reason I got entrusted with
this which is in reality its probably the biggest
risk the group has ever taken.
RICHARD BRANSON: Well Brett is and was an Aussie.
He was the Finance Director of our European airline.
We had bought an airline rather than started it from
scratch. And this one person at that airline that
I found after a while I could turn to get things sorted
out and that was Brett. He basically saved the situation
on many many an occasion. And so when one day he said
he wanted to get back to Australia I owed him a big
BRETT GODFREY: We actually started to set up the office
here in Brisbane. For the first week we didnt
have any furniture we sat on the floor. It looked
like a kids camp out as opposed to a Business
Meeting of people we were trying to set up like a
third or a fourth domestic airline.
March cabin crew recruitment
BOLGER: The whole recruitment process does look a
lot of fun and part of it is to attract people that
have got that sense of fun and that sense of Virgin
BRETT GODFREY: And theyve come because theyve
wanted to work in a company thats a little bit
AMANDA BOLGER: Once they get past that level its
much more serious and our Head of Cabin Crew actually
interviews every single person.
Next Day - Second Round Interviews
OFFICER: First of all I want to say congratulations
because youve all got through to the next round.
March Staff Meeting to discuss airline name
GODFREY: When you think about it an airline starts
as a business plan or a concept. We started to do
a checklist, which there were some 42 odd pages long.
We just couldnt do it. We had boards over here
where we started to list everything and we ran into
pages and pages from like how you refill an oxygen
cylinder to, how you finance an aeroplane to, do we
need a spare engine. Well we probably do because weve
got no friends in this particular part of the world
who are likely to help us, unlike Europe.
June - London
BRANSON: Virgin Blue has been fun as a launch I just
wonder as a long term name whether Jet Blue would
be better than Virgin Blue.
Well youve already got a company called Jet
BRETT GODFREY: I came here thinking I knew a bit about
the airline business. Well starting now from scratch
I realised how little I did know and its only
because as Ive said that the team Ive
got around me that weve managed to get this
uniforms I thought I had an idea on the uniforms and
that went out the window because clearly Im
not a style merchant.
AMANDA BOLGER: Weve all got to have our opinion.
Weve got to have our say. Theres not many
organisations that you can just do that with. We sat
through a couple and you just had to look at everyones
face to sort of know no thats not we want or
wed screw our noses up ever so discreetly.
then Marks came on and well they completely blew me
away. I thought they look fantastic.
BRETT GODFREY: Our uniforms even though they look
great, theyve been done with a real budget in
mind and we got them for under about five hundred
dollars a uniform and that is incredible.
fare airlines have to have low costs and the concern
is that if you get prices so low you must be cutting
corners somewhere. Well thats true. We do cut
corners somewhere so right across the board even our
management team. The salaries that were paying
ourselves are by far much less than whats the
ticket to produce is about $23.00 so we cut that out
were absolutely ticketless. You get basically
a receipt. Weve got no fancy lounges, we dont
have frequent flyer points. Where we cant cut
corners we have to have a strong maintenance facility
and strong maintenance procedures. We cant skimp
on pilots. We bought back a bunch of the blokes who
flew in the late eighties when there was this big
The Prime Minister had to run the gauntlet of out
of work pilots.
JOHN RABY, Chief Pilot: I was overseas for nearly
ten years. Its nice, its interesting but
its never like home.
June - Flight simulator - pilot training
RABY: Im the Flight Operations Manager, which
in probably laymans terms is the Chief pilot.
As a pilot when you join an airline the first thing
you would expect is that youd be presented with
a group of manuals and youd go away and study
those. Here its been "oh, okay sit down
and write the manuals."
thousand odd applications we had from pilots at all
sorts of levels. I think the experience of the two
Compass start-ups has caused some pilots to take a
wait and see attitude as it were.
PETER HARBISON, Aviation Analyst: Both of those other
two carriers were technically bankrupt shortly after
they started off on it. Virgin is going to be supported
as I understand it by Bransons own pocket if
necessary for perhaps three years and thats
the big difference. And hes talked in terms
of I think forty million dollars a year to keep it
25 June - "Business Sunday" : Channel Nine
... because as late as 30th May CASA said that things
were not going well and that the manual was not up
to standard and that your start up schedule was not
RICHARD BRANSON: Nothing has been as far as Im
concerned has been untoward. Weve always said
that well be up and running before the Olympics.
REPORTER: The feeling is that no one has been driving
the setup in Australia. Are you coming out to fix
RICHARD BRANSON: I think its very sad that youve
come all this way down to look for negative questions
if I may say. Brett Godfrey is a very able person.
RICHARD BRANSON: The thing that broke the camels back
was when they asked me the question "I hear youre
coming down to Australia to get rid of your Chief
Executive". And I just wasnt going I didnt
want to carry on and doing the interview with sort
of unpleasant and naive, evil questions being asked
25 June - "Business Sunday" : Channel Nine
Well can I ask you how long you plan to keep Brett
Godfrey in place?
RICHARD BRANSON: Oh, just forget it.
AMANDA BOLGER: He just reacted. I mean I have to say
I sat there thinking Oh my gosh and while from a PR
perspective, it might not have necessarily been a
good move to get up and walk out of an interview,
all I can say Im really proud to work for a
boss who will get up, and feels that strongly and
that passionately about his team, that he will get
up and to hell with the consequences and to hell with
5th July cabin crew graduation
EFFIE WELLER, Flight Attendant: The whole group was
really fantastic. We bonded really well. Were
looking forward to the start up date. To us its
overwhelming had a few tears in there because it was
just really good.
RICHARD BRANSON: Starting an airline is not easy.
I mean youve got to find the planes and in our
case Bretts bought ten brand new 737s.
BRETT GODFREY: The aeroplanes, the value of those
aeroplanes that were bringing in, starting next
year starting $540 million. It is high profile. Its
also the biggest single risk weve undertaken.
This is 100% Richard all within the Group and from
that point of view, yeah hes taken a gamble,
I hope I dont prove him wrong.
JOHN RABY, Chief Pilot: We realised that our people
would need some practical training. So we decided
to run a series of private flights. So in a way were
running probably the biggest business jet in Australia
right now. But of course you know thats a very
expensive exercise and it cant go on for very
Tell me how long did it take to board 110 passengers?
A long time.
It took us 22 minutes I was timing you. 22 minutes
to board 110 passengers, theres no way we can
PETER HARBISON, Aviation Analyst: I think its
a very good thing that the decision was made to start
Virgin rolling last year because I think you if you
came into the market today and said whats the
best place to make money in Australia it wouldnt
be by starting up an airline. But already this things
got so much momentum and Branson to his credit is
so committed to it that its obviously going
to fly and its going to stay in the air for
some time even if he has to dig very deep into his
BRETT GODFREY: Basically nine out of ten or eight
out of ten of the senior management team are Australian.
And at the end of the day we one day plan to I guess
to remove the risk of the airline and Richards
made it plenty clear that hed like to float
it some day in Australia when that risk has been removed.
9th July - start of pre launch events
PETER HARBISON: I think one of the reasons why aviations
such a quite profile industry is because it comes
along with this incredible mix of business, of politics
and that largely of emotion, is usually the magic
carpet to go somewhere on holiday. For the employees
often prepared to work for considerably less than
they would work in most other industries, its
often a crusade.
AMANDA BOLGER: The aircraft taking off was just the
best feeling and you could see the look on everyones
face the excitement, the pure adrenalin going through
Channel 7 News footage
The mystery destination was Maroochydore. Its runway
short, the landing incredibly hard.
JOHN RABY, Chief Pilot: Without labouring the point
my landing wasnt the best Ive done.
Channel 7 News footage
Once on the ground there was the problem of getting
onto the ground. No Virgin stairs. Ansett Airlines
came to the party, providing its stairs.
AMANDA BOLGER, Media Manager: One little thing goes
wrong and it sort of sets off another couple of things.
And yeah there were moments all along where we just
thought God I hope we can just all pull this together
in time. I dont think Ive ever worked
so hard in my life. I dont think Ive ever
seen so many people work so hard in their lives. And
to see it all come together today was just the most
is just going to be the night. Everyones been
looking forward to it for so long and we just hope
that everyone has a great time and just really goes
off like a frog in a sock.
RICHARD BRANSON: Youve got to lead from the
top. If Im going about partying, if Im
having a good time, if Im letting my hair down
then everybody else can let their hair down and have
a good time.
RICHARD BRANSON: Ive got to know Brett over
the last few years and I cant think of anybody
in the world I trust more. Anyway if it wasnt
for him none of us would be here tonight. So Id
like us all to give a round of applause to Brett.
ABC Radio "AM"
Sir Richard, whos known for his flamboyance
is certainly trying to make sure no one misses Virgins
arrival on the domestic scene. The actions of one
Virgin staff member show his excitement is catching.
Upon hearing the 737 was too high above Noosa to see
any nude sunbathers the female staffer flashed her
breasts to the pilots.
JOHN RABY, Chief Pilot: I was actually flying the
aeroplane so my concentration was on other things
but Amanda apparently showed a little bit of midriff.
I believe your camera crew were actually standing
We can nonetheless appreciate that Sir Richard would
call his company Virgin in preference to slut. Hell
have to watch it though.
AMANDA BOLGER: Considering it was completely inaccurate
and the insinuation and I think the way he described
it and a particular word that was used really hurt.
11th July - Sydney-Melbourne flight
BRETT GODFREY: When we get off the plane in Melbourne
in about 15 minutes were going to announce something
that I wasnt sure we were going to announce.
The CEOs always the last to know that Richard
had an interview this morning with a radio and he
said that we are starting up our Brisbane to Melbourne
service 1st of October and hes decided that
hes going to give those seats away at $99.00
as well. And I must admit I had to pick myself off
the floor. I tell you Im going to have to go
back and look at my business plan again and see how
long we can give those fares away for that.
PETER HARBISON, Aviation Analyst: In terms of their
strategy bluntly I dont think their strategys
in place yet, today. Youre going to have to
have a very flexible strategy. Youve got to
be able to adapt from day to day and for that youre
going to need very very good management if youre
going to really hit the button with your decisions.
Reporter: Sir Richard how are you going with the CASA
RICHARD BRANSON: Theyve told us that we can
get up and announce fares on sale from August 3rd.
Were ready, were literally on the dots
and the crosses now.
JOHN RABY: A commercial airline has to be approved
by the CASA Authority and we ultimately would be issued
with whats called an Air Operators Certificate
an AOC is the acronym for that. And that will licence
us to fly certain routes, certain aircrafts and sell
the seats on those aeroplanes.
RICHARD BRANSON: There has to be a tension until youve
actually got this little paper in your hand. You know
you have to always be concerned that some little thing
somewhere may go wrong which delays things. And obviously
that would be embarrassing to say the least.
JOHN RABY: Were all I think starting to feel
the pressure now. Were probably putting a lot
of stress on ourselves I suppose.
BRETT GODFREY: Weve had to produce about 17
manuals which provide probably in excess of four or
five thousand pages. The crux of the whole AOC is
to get our manuals to a state that CASA say that we
will be able to operate safely and compliant wise
within the industry.
14th July, News Item
ANDERSON, Transport Minister: They have set themselves
a very ambitious timetable but thats their right.
I just clearly indicate that of course AOCs
are something we do not hand out lightly.
BRETT GODFREY: We have been working around the clock
in fact. Weve had manual writers working
bought on a lot of resource to try and get the thing
done as quickly as we believe it can be done without
pushing the envelope.
GODFREY: The last thing Virgin would ever want to
do is to get into a situation where theyre looking
at reprotecting passengers on our first day. I mean
thats just not the way businesses are meant
to be run. Its been a bit tough today. Ive
made probably half a dozen phone calls to people who
are in the know, and unfortunately it just seems to
be this time of year that certain of the key people
for us and whove been working very hard the
CASA people whove been working very hard with
us are not available and so Im trying holiday
destinations from wherever they are to find out how
GODFREY: Im waiting on some calls back from
CASA, which I hope to have by this afternoon. But
theres been at the grassroots level of people
that are working on the manuals and the files have
suggested to us that perhaps the process is being
pushed too quickly. Unlike yesterday I would say I
was not concerned, Im a little concerned because
the silence is a little bit bothersome. But I would
like to think by the end of the day well have
a clearer picture on whats happening.
21st July- staff meeting
GODFREY: The world isnt ending and its
not going to end with us. There is a postponement
that were looking at for 3rd August and I want
people to realise that there is no issue of job security.
Ive been speaking to Richard this morning.
have been happy with some elements of our programme
and unhappy with others and thats to be expected
and things have come to light in the last 24 hours
that theyre not exceedingly happy or satisfied
with our manuals. The reason were not giving
a date is that the fear is that we cant do this
again of course. Its not right to put people
at risk who want to travel.
Booking Staff phoning Customers
Hello its Denis from Virgin Blue Airlines from
Brisbane, how are you doing? Cool. Im not ringing
with particularly good news. Unfortunately we havent
been given the okay to start flying on the third of
Were more than happy to give you a complete
refund now and still offer you that free flight ...
AMANDA BOLGER: Its kind of intimidating walking
out knowing youre about to cop it and youve
got to cop it sweet I guess.
GODFREY: Its a disappointment, I wouldnt
say its a major disappointment. These things
REPORTER: Are you worried about public perceptions
now theres been a stalled start up date?
BRETT GODFREY: No. What we will guarantee is that
when we come out with a statement as to the start
date that will be the start date.
AMANDA BOLGER: The truth will be told on when we see
the news tonight. You just never know. So well
be sitting there with anxious little hearts. So yeah
itll be interesting.
but for now to avoid any further uncertainty the Airline
has stopped taking reservations...
Two nights ago
GODFREY: To say that the last two weeks have been
particularly difficult is not an understatement because
we felt we were relatively close and for that reason
should have been flying in a few days time. Weve
spent some eighteen hundred people hours. Weve
had some forty people involved. Weve basically
regathered all our manuals and completed the process
now. Were going to put the ball back into CASAs
court to some degree. In other words asking them to
move as quickly as they can.
the last few days its been important to staff
morale to get around and talk to everyone.
looking forward to their holidays but like all of
us there will be no holidays until we can actually
take some people on their own holidays by flying an
aeroplane. And thats what were coming
pretty close to I believe now.
CASA said yesterday that "if all requirements
are met Virgin Blue should be flying by late August
or early September."