Virgin boss John Borghetti says some maintenance work cheaper and faster to do in Portugal than Australia

Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti has raised concerns about the quality, high cost and timeliness of airplane maintenance in Australia in a closed-doors discussion with Coalition MPs.

Mr Borghetti was in Canberra on Wednesday for the dinner with 67 Coalition MPs, including two cabinet minister and four other ministers, who are members of the "friends of tourism" group. He also met with Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

The dinner, at Canberra's exclusive Ottoman restaurant, was conducted under the Chatham House Rule - a condition that comments would not be attributed to specific individuals - but Fairfax Media has been told by several Coalition MPs at the dinner that the airline had chosen to send its Embraer aircraft to Portugal for heavy maintenance rather than have it done in Australia.

The MPs have confirmed that Mr Borghetti told the room it took less time for Embraer plane to be flown to Portugal, serviced and flown back than it took to get the work done in Australia.

He also said it was cheaper to get the work done in Portugal then in Australia, even allowing for the cost of fuel for the long-haul flight.

He also raised concerns about the quality of some maintenance work performed in Australia.

In comments that will not escape the notice of the union movement, the Virgin boss also said the airline operated in increasingly competitive global environment and that people needed to understand that.

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman told Fairfax Media the airline operated 18 Embraer aircraft, which make up about 12 per cent of its 148-strong fleet, and that about 75 per cent of all maintenance is performed in Australia.

During the speech, Mr Borghetti also criticised Labor and the union movement for, as one MP put it, "dog whistling" about the quality of maintenance work done in Asia during the debate over changes to the Qantas Sale Act proposed by the Abbott government.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia emphasised that Mr Borghetti’s comments had specifically referred to heavy maintenance of the Embraer Aircraft.

“We carry out the majority of our aircraft maintenance work within Australia and we are very happy with the high standard and timeliness of the work performed by our maintenance teams in this country,’’ she said.

“We continue to invest in performing our maintenance within Australia, having recently brought more maintenance work in-house with plans to bring even further maintenance hours onshore in future.”

The Abbott's government's push to remove sections of the Qantas Sale Act that limit foreign ownership and mandate the majority of maintenance work be performed in Australia has stalled in the Senate.

Mr Borghetti restated his support for the repeal of the Sale Act and also repeated his public calls for the repeal of the carbon tax, arguing both Qantas and Virgin were losing money and that the tax was an unnecessary additional impost.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott singled out Mr Borghetti for praise earlier this month, welcoming his criticism of the carbon tax.

“He's running Virgin, he was very senior in Qantas; he knows as much about the airline industry as anyone, and his clear statement – no ifs no buts – the best thing you can do for the airline industry, right now, is get rid of the carbon tax," Mr Abbott said.

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The story Virgin boss John Borghetti says some maintenance work cheaper and faster to do in Portugal than Australia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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