Sunday, October 26, 2014

Star Flyer launches Yamaguchi-Ube.

On October 26th, the beginning of the Winter 2014/2015 timetable, Star Flyer (7G/SFJ) launched three-times daily service to Yamaguchi-Ube (UBJ/RJDC) from Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) (Star Flyer to add Yamaguchi-Ube; but reduce Fukuoka.). 150-seat Airbus A320-200s operate the route, and all flights code-share with All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), subsidiary of ANA Holdings, which owns 18% of the Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR)-based carrier.
Airbus A320-214(SL) JA21MC City of Kitakyushu taxies at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The inaugural flight, 7G011, operated by A320-214(SL) JA21MC, arrived at Yamaguchi-Ube at 0905 JST with a load of 128 passengers. It was greeted by a traditional water cannon salute upon arrival. The first return leg, flight 7G012, departed at 0947 carrying 148 passengers.

Flight Schedule (Oct/26/2014 - Mar/28/2015):
Haneda – Yamaguchi-Ube NEW 3 daily with A320-200.
7G011 HND 0720 – 0905 UBJ 32A/320 Daily
7G013 HND 1245 – 1430 UBJ 32A/320 Daily
7G015 HND 1750 – 19:35 UBJ 32A/320 Daily
7G012 UBJ 0945 – 1115 HND 32A/320 Daily
7G014 UBJ 1515 – 1645 HND 32A/320 Daily
7G016 UBJ 2010 – 2140 HND 32A/320 Daily

Star Flyer cut three of its 10 Haneda – Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) round-trips to free up three slot-pairs at the heavily-regulated Tokyo airport for the new service. Along with the launch, they moved all but its flights to Kitakyushu to Haneda's Terminal 2 (used by ANA Group and partners). Meanwhile, ANA axed two of its five Haneda – Yamaguchi-Ube round-trips and put its code on all three of Star Flyer's new flights. So virtually, the launch is more of a transfer of another unprofitable route from ANA to the de facto subsidiary (New Star Flyer President is from ANA.), which has lower costs (but still far from low cost).

Between March 2012 and January 2013, ANA deployed Boeing 787s on the route in a bid to compete against JAL's four daily 737-800 round-trips. However, currently all flights are operated by 270-seat 767-300s and load factor for FY2013 was 53.2%, well below the company average of 61.6%. Meanwhile, Star Flyer was bleeding cash after dumping all of its five new Haneda slot-pairs that were awarded in March 2013 into the Fukuoka market, a high-demand link but also one of the most highly-contested. Passenger numbers went up but sparked a fare-war which hurt the all-important yield. ANA had wanted to reduce flying Haneda – Yamaguchi-Ube without receiving bad publicity, and Star Flyer's restructuring was seen as a perfect vehicle. 

Unfortunately, Star Flyer has joined the likes of AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do) and Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ) (d.b.a. Solaseed Air) in becoming merely a lower-cost feeder carrier for ANA, at least in terms of route network. Why will ANA not simply take over these carriers? All Haneda slots are controlled and allocated by Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), and the unspoken rule is, if more than 20% of an airline that holds Haneda slots comes under control of another carrier, those slots must be relinquished for redistribution.

Reference: Aviation Wire, October 26th. (in Japanese)

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