Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Vanilla Air launches Narita – Amami.

On July 1st, Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) launched Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) – Amami (ASJ/RJKA), becoming the first LCC to serve the leisure resort island situated in the Amami Archipelago between Kyushu and Okinawa. The first out-bound flight, JW821, operated by Airbus A320-216(WL) JA01VA touched down at Amami at 1309 JST, 14 minutes behind schedule, carrying 166 passengers. It was greeted by a water-cannon salute.
Airbus A320-216(SL) JA01VA prepares to depart Amami back to Narita. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Flight schedule (July 1st - August 31st):
JW821 NRT 1030 – 1255 ASJ 32A/320 Daily
JW822 ASJ 1410 – 1630 NRT 32A/320 Daily
Flight schedule (September 1st - 30th):
JW821 NRT 1450 – 1715 ASJ 32A/320 Daily
JW822 ASJ 1755 – 2015 NRT 32A/320 Daily
Flight schedule (September 30th - October 25th):
JW821 NRT 0815 – 1055 ASJ 32A/320 Daily
JW822 ASJ 1130 – 1340 NRT 32A/320 Daily

The return flight, JW822, departed Amami at 1407, three minutes early, with a load of 55 passengers. Although the assigned aircraft could seat up to 180, Vanilla Air caps its flights at 166 due to their mixed fleet of 180-seat new and 166-seat secondhand (Vanilla Air's 'LOHACO Jet' enters service.) machines. All three of the latter, sourced from sister All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), will be replaced by brand-new 180-seat A320s between September and November this year.

President Tomonori Ishii thanked the locals saying "I'm very happy. We decided on the launch only four months after we restarted (Vanilla Air launches operations.), but the Governor of Amami as well as the locals put a lot of effort and I've felt it. Reservations are coming along." He told reporters "Our target load factor is 80%. We believe there's a potential demand," citing the island's wide range of available outdoor leisure activities including sports camps, surfing, diving, snorkeling, and fishing. The fledgling LCC also targets the estimated 200,000 people of Amami-origin living in the Kanto (Greater Tokyo) region.

Speaking about the flight cancellations due to the shortage of pilots (Vanilla Air cancels 154 flights in June due to pilot shortage.), Mr. Ishii apologized "We are very sorry for that. We'll have a stable operation from July onwards. We're putting more resources to recruiting."

The Government of Japan and the Prefectural Government of Kagoshima together agreed to allocate 2.7 billion JPY under Amami Archipelago Promotion Fund effective April 1st, where financial support will be provided to businesses that help boost economy in the islands, and Vanilla Air's once-daily service also operates under this scheme. Located approximately 380 kilometers (240 miles) south of the southern tip of Kyushu and 250 kilometres (160 miles) north of Okinawa, Amami Oshima (which translates to Amami Big Island) is an island of volcanic origin with a humid subtropical climate. Its coasts are surrounded by coral reefs. 

Until this day, Amami had been served only by Japan Airlines' (JL/JAL) group; JAL Express (JC/JEX) operates one daily each from Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO) and Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) with Boeing 737-800s, while Japan Air Commuter (3X/JAC) links Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), Kagoshima (KOJ/RJFK), Kikai (KKX/RJKI), Okinoerabu (OKE/RJKB), Tokunoshima (TKN/RJKN), and Yoron (RNJ/RORY) with Bombardier DHC-8-400Qs and Saab SF340s. Ryukyu Air Commuter (RAC) flies to Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH). Amami has not escaped the radar of newcomers, however, as Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) in 2010 and 2011 briefly operated seasonal service to and from Kagoshima, which has not resumed since. 

In the long run, Vanilla Air intends to direct 70% of its routes to overseas, meaning less emphasis on the domestic market. From its small base at Narita, the wholly-owned subsidiary of ANA Holdings currently flies to Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH), Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC), Seoul/Incheon (ICN/RKSI), and Taipei/Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP) with a fleet of six A320s. China, Guam, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Saipan are being considered, and Mr. Ishii quoted "Our next destination will probably be an Asian neighbor," though he said plans have not materialized yet.

Reference: Aviation Wire, July 1st. (in Japanese)

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