Friday, February 28, 2014

JAL unveils Samurai Blue Jet.

On February 26th, sponsoring companies of the Japan National Football (Soccer) Team Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) and convenience store chain Family Mart together unveiled 'Samurai Blue Jet' to support the team's participation in FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. 'Samurai Blue' is the nickname for the team.
Boeing 777-246 JA8985 inside JAL's hangar at Haneda. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

The aircraft, Boeing 777-246 JA8985, received a decal in the rear with official logos of the Japan Football Association (JFA) and messages, along with approximately 400 photos of supporters who submitted them during the 'Make Dreams Your Power 2014' campaign. JA8985 was one of JAL's six Disney Happiness Express (JAL winding down Disney Happiness Express ops.) planes until last week.
A closer look at the 'Samurai Blue Jet' livery. (Image: JAL)

Japan team's manager Alberto Zaccheroni was on hand at the unveiling ceremony inside JAL's hangar at Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT), commenting "I am especially happy to see our supporters' smiles on the airplane. We need the support of all related people to win". 'Samurai Blue Jet' entered service on the same day with flight JL329, service from Haneda to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF). It will ply domestic skies until the end of July.

Source: Japan Airlines, February 26th. (in Japanese)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

ANA to offer in-flight Wi-Fi for international from March.

All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) will commence in-flight Wi-Fi service on selected international routes on selected days from March 1st. Branded 'ANA WiFi Service', it is aimed at use with smartphones and tablet computers.
Boeing 767-381/ER(WL) JA623A awaits its next international flight at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

An initial fleet of two Boeing 777-300ERs and one B767-300ER will be equipped with the service, and will gradually be expanded to all 19 B777-300ERs and nine B767-300ERs by the end of fiscal year 2014. B787 Dreamliners are not planned for the time being as their fuselage is made from composites. Passengers would be able to surf the web, check e-mail, and update their social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LINE, but the service is not suited for personal laptop computers or YouTube downloading. Prices range depending on bandwidth; 6 USD for 5 megabytes, 12 USD for 10 megabytes, and 24 USD for 20 megabytes.
Passengers can look out for this logo on the airplane. (Image: ANA)

ANA's in-flight Wi-Fi will be provided by SITA subsidiary OnAir, formerly a joint-venture with Airbus. Original plans were to launch the service in summer 2013, however, unsatisfactory connection quality led ANA to wait for improvement. Meanwhile, rival Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) has already been offering in-flight Wi-Fi on international routes from July 2012 with Panasonic Avionics' 'eXConnect' product, and service on domestic flights will start from July this year with Gogo as provider.

Source: All Nippon Airways, February 26th. (in Japanese)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

JAL winding down Disney Happiness Express ops.

Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) has gradually started to end its 'Happiness Express' operations, a collaboration of the airline and Tokyo Disney Resort to celebrate the entertainment park's 30th anniversary in 2013.
Boeing 737-846(WL) JA330J taxies for departure at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

A total of six aircraft had been plying Japan's domestic skies, with the first entering service on March 29th, 2013. Two Boeing 777-246s, JA8985 and JA772J, wore blue featuring Mickey Mouse, Minney Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy, while B737-846(WL)s JA329J and JA339J wore yellow with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and another two B737-846(WL)s, JA330J and JA332J, wore pink featuring Minney Mouse and Daisy Duck.
Boeing 777-246 JA772J at Haneda waiting for its flight to New Chitose. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

As of February 21st, B777-246 JA8985 and B737-846(WL) JA330J were no longer wearing the big Disney decals. All operations are to be completed on March 20th. JAL has been the official airline of Tokyo Disney Resort since 1983.

Source: JAL Happiness Express (in Japanese)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Star Flyer's President Shinichi Yonehara to step down.

Rumors are circulating that Star Flyer's (7G/SFJ) current President Shinichi Yonehara has decided to resign from his position. Yomiuri Shimbun along with other media all reported the news on February 19th. It was denied by the airline the following day, but several sources close to the President are telling that other executives have already been informed about the matter.
Airbus A320-214 JA08MC 'Heart of Kitakyushu' taxies at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Star Flyer is expected to post a staggering 3.3 billion JPY loss for fiscal year 2013 ending in March. Their all-Airbus A320 fleet will be reduced to nine, executives have already taken 15-30% salary cuts, and the company has cut about 10% of its workforce through early voluntary retirements. The carrier blames higher fuel costs due to the rapid devaluation of the Japanese Yen (JPY) as well as increased competition from LCCs, but that's just a tip of an iceberg. 

As part of restructuring, they are axing the four-times daily Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) - Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) service after February 19th as well as their double-daily Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR) - Busan/Gimhae (PUS/RKPK) route, their sole but highly unprofitable international service, after March 29th. Star Flyer touts itself as Kitakyushu's hometown airline with its headquarters and maintenance center based there, but most of its routes are to and from the big cities of Fukuoka, Osaka, and Tokyo. Last spring, it put all of its five slot-pairs newly awarded at Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) on the Haneda - Fukuoka route, a high-demand route but at the same time one of the most highly-contested. Load factors went up, but prices went down and hurt the all-important yield.

Meanwhile, Star Flyer's Haneda - Kansai route, which constantly sees load factors around 70%, is not helping the balance sheet either. As many as 130 of the 150 seats per flight are sold by All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), which puts its code on these flights, and Star Flyer is being forced to sell these seats to ANA at "unfavorably low prices", according to close sources. Soon they will have ANA's code on code on all flights; the 'NH' code will be placed on all of its 10 Haneda - Fukuoka round-trips on February 1st, as well as the three-times-daily Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) - Fukuoka route which will commence on March 30th. "ANA basically forced Star Flyer to start taking over another unprofitable (at ANA's costs) route", cite a source who preferred not to be named.

Unlike competing LCCs which cram 180 seats on the A320, Star Flyer only has 150; they have boasted 'high-quality domestic economy', providing audio visual on-demand (AVOD) at every seat, the only domestic airline to do so, as well as serving Tully's-branded coffee accompanied by chocolate for free. But these features will not stand out soon, as Skymark will put in all-premium Airbus A330s into service on the Haneda - Fukuoka route and sells these seats at prices often even cheaper than ANA and Japan Airlines' (JL/JAL) economy.

ANA Holdings owns 17.96% of Star Flyer, and rumors have it that an ANA veteran will be installed as new President. Can Star Flyer find a niche? Or will it become merely a feeder carrier for ANA operating routes that would be unprofitable at ANA's costs? 

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 19th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, February 21st. (in Japanese)

Monday, February 24, 2014

ANA receives 27th Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

All Nippon Airways' (NH/ANA) 27th Dreamliner, Boeing 787-8 JA828A, was delivered to Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) on February 23rd. It is their second Charleston-built airframe.
Domestic-configured Boeing 787-8 JA812A taxies at Tokyo's Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

As flight NH9399, the aircraft departed Charleston (CHS/KCHS) at 0943 local time on February 22nd and arrived approximately 13.5 hours later at Haneda at 1308 local time the following day. This is ANA's ninth B787 in long-haul configuration, seating 46 in business, 21 in premium economy, and 102 in economy (total 169 seats).

JAL to expand code-share with Fuji Dream Airlines.

Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) will code-share on Fuji Dream Airlines' (JH/FDA) new Nagoya/Komaki (NKM/RJNA) - Yamagata (GAJ/RJSC) service, which will commence on March 30th. (Fuji Dream Airlines' Summer 2014 changes.)
Embraer ERJ170-200/STD (E175) JA03FJ 'Pink' rests at Nagoya's Komaki Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Nagoya/Komaki (NKM/RJNA) - Yamagata new 1 daily with E70.
JH383/JL4323 NKM 1330 - 1435 GAJ E70 Daily *March 30 - June 30.

JH383/JL4324 NKM 1150 - 1255 GAJ E70 Daily *July 1 - October 25.
JH384/JL4323 GAJ 1505 - 1620 NKM E70 Daily *March 30 - June 30.
JH384/JL4324 GAJ 1325 - 1440 NKM E70 Daily *July 1 - October 25.

JAL already code-shares on Fuji Dream's flights from Komaki to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), Kochi (KCZ/RJOK), Kumamoto (KMJ/RJFT), and Niigata (KIJ/RJSN), as well as from Shizuoka (FSZ/RJNS) to Fukuoka and Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC), and the Matsumoto (MMJ/RJAF) to Fukuoka and New Chitose routes, and the Niigata - Fukuoka route.

Source: Japan Airlines, February 18th. (in Japanese)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Air Do receives fifth Boeing 737-700.

AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do) has received its fifth Next-Generation Boeing 737, a B737-781 transferred from All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) registered JA08AN.
Sister-ship Boeing 737-781 JA11AN climbs away from Tokyo's Haneda Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The aircraft was ferried to Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) as flight NH9416 on February 18th after maintenance and re-painting at Taipei/Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP). It is expected to replace B737-54K JA8196, the first 'Bear Do', which is expected to be returned to ANA in March. Air Do will gradually take delivery of additional 144-seat B737-700s on lease from ANA to replace its remaining six 126-seat B737-500s (including JA8196) by January 2016.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

ANA Boeing 767 makes emergency landing at Akita.

On February 20th, All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) flight NH874, service from Akita (AXT/RJSK) to Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT), reported white smoke in the cabin just a few minutes after takeoff around 0950 local time. Declaring emergency, the aircraft with 163 passengers and crew returned to the departure airport and made a safe landing 20 minutes later.

The aircraft involved was Boeing 767-381 JA8569, a domestic-configured B767 delivered to ANA on December 1st, 1993. According to passengers, white smoke came into the cabin through the vents soon after takeoff and "smelled like something was burning". Inspections on site revealed there was an oil leak in the number two engine. ANA and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) are investigating the matter.

Source: Asahi Shimbun, February 20th. (in Japanese)

Friday, February 21, 2014

CoachFlyer KE768: AOJ - ICN on Korean Air's Boeing 737.

Travel date: January 2014
Flight: KE768
Route: Aomori (AOJ/RJSA) - Seoul/Incheon (ICN/RKSI)
Carrier: Korean Air Lines (KE/KAL) d.b.a. Korean Air
Aircraft: Boeing 737-8Q8(WL) HL8224
Class: Economy
Direct distance: 1,283 km (798 miles)
Flight time: 2 hours 34 minutes 

With our flight being the sole international route from the airport, check-in, security check and immigrations were a breeze at Aomori Airport (AOJ/RJSA). Boarding began at 1335, and the doors were closed at 1352. Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu and one of the country’s snowiest prefectures along with Hokkaido and northwestern Japan, was seeing a blizzard on this day, but with the airport located on a mountain, it is not something rare at all. That is one of the reasons why Aomori Airport is one of only seven airports in Japan fully equipped with ILS Category IIIb, and also boasts Japan's fastest airport snow plowing system which airport officials have dubbed 'White Impulse'.
Our Boeing 737-8Q8(WL) HL8224 arriving at Aomori from Incheon. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

De-icing took some time, and push-back didn't start until 1404, nine minutes behind schedule. All announcements were made in the order of Korean, English, and Japanese, but the safety procedure video lacked English. Seven minutes later, we started moving, but visibility wasn't looking good. At 1420, we started our takeoff roll from Runway 24, but immediately after, the thrust reversers and spoilers were deployed, and we realized that takeoff had been aborted. Passengers, wondering why the aircraft could not take off, did not receive an explanation until five minutes later while waiting on the taxiway that there had been a gust warning. 10 minutes later, we tried our second takeoff run, and this time, at 1436, out aircraft lifted to the air. After a very bumpy climb, the seat-belt signs were turned off about seven minutes later, and the crew started preparing for in-flight service.
By the time boarding was ready, a blizzard had come. Poor visibility. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Our aircraft, Boeing 737-8Q8(WL) HL8224, was delivered to ILFC on July 19th, 2011 and immediately leased to Korean Air. It is one of 19 B737-800s the carrier currently operates. At 1450, the crew started serving meals; sauteed chicken with rice served with Kimchi and seaweed. Their tube-packaged Korean chili paste is always a nice accompaniment. Our Captain made his welcome message to the passengers, but nothing about our delayed departure or the weather issue was mentioned. With strong headwinds, our cruising ground speed was 730 kph (450 mph) at an altitude of 9,700 meters (32,000 feet). The meal was followed by rounds of coffee and green tea, and then duty free sales dubbed ‘KAL Sky Shop’ were started. The majority of passengers seemed to be Korean, many on the way back to their home from package tours in Aomori.
Don't forget their tasty Korean chili paste (red cap)! (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

In June 2013, Korean Air reported they were considering axing the route after load factors were in the fifties, but the airline and Aomori’s prefectural government, along with local authorities who feared the impact on tourism of losing the prefecture’s only international flight, carried out various incentives to lure passengers. Flights were moved to Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays which enabled weekend trips instead of the previous Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, airport parking fees were lowered, and local transportation companies came up with more package tours. Load factors improved and are reportedly still around 60%, however, Korean Air is still keeping the route. On-going political tensions between Japan and Korea have a relatively large impact, especially on the number of outbound passengers from Aomori.
Our aircraft's Boeing Signature Interior. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

At 1535, cabin lights were dimmed and the pale blue mood lights were softly turned on, giving a relaxing feel. However, the cabin crew started to chat in the back of the aircraft, and their voices could be heard in rear rows. The Boeing Signature Interior (BSI) certainly gives a very different impression compared to the normal interior; a spacious cabin with a relaxing atmosphere. This B737 was also equipped with large seat-width-sized personal LCDs and an on-demand entertainment system running Korean Air's 'Beyond' product at every seat, and that also helped to give an impression that this was an international aircraft, and not just another tightly-configured Boeing narrow-body. Our aircraft flew south off the west coast of Japan, overflying Noto and Oki, then heading across the Sea of Japan (East Sea) for the Korean peninsula. Unfortunately, most of the view below us in Japanese airspace was cloudy. 
Looking to the north. The mountains of North Korea in the horizon. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

We entered Korean land from Pohang around 1630, and headed northwest towards the nation's capital. A few minutes later, the cabin crew came down with a rounds of water, orange juice, and fruit punch. We passed west of Andong and Chungju, before starting our descent from Suwon, south of Seoul, at 1648. 10 minutes later the seat-belt signs were turned on, and we passed Incheon Airport (ICN/RKSI) to our right. Heading north, we made a sharp turn to the right, enabling us to get a glimpse of the beautiful mountains of North Korea on the horizon. At 1707, we made our last sharp turn to the right, for a final approach to Runway 16. Gears were lowered, and the Boeing 737 touched down at 1710, local time. Total flight time was two hours and 34 minutes. We arrived at remote Spot 822 at 1719, 24 minutes behind schedule. Buses were quick and we were inside the terminal in five minutes.
Sunset seen from Spot 822 at Incheon. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Korean Air provides an efficient option for long-haul travel from its 14 destinations it flies to in Japan, as these flights can feed their global network from their Incheon hub. Crowded and heavily-regulated Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) has been gradually increasing international flights, finally admitting Incheon's threat, but is still far from being called a true global hub, so many outbound passengers from areas other than Tokyo still do need to make the two-hour ground transfer to Narita Airport (NRT/RJAA) if transiting in Tokyo. Service-wise, Korean Air has a state-of-the-art hard product, but I personally feel the soft part often leaves something to be desired. The crew should have explained the takeoff abort better and at least offered a small apology, even if it was due to a weather issue. Starting to chat in the back when passengers were dozing off is not a good timing, even if it was time for the crew to rest from in-flight services.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

JAL to resume Kansai to London and Los Angeles in 2015.

Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) is planning to re-launch services from Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) to London/Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) and Los Angeles (LAX/KLAX) in the second half of fiscal year 2015. Osaka's local corporations and authorities have been pushing JAL for the resumption. Los Angeles was terminated in October 2006 and Heathrow was also suspended in March 2009.
Boeing 777-246/ER JA709J parked at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

To 'experiment' the feasibility, on February 19th JAL announced that they will operate a round-trip charter flight from Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) to the U.K. in July. A 245-seat Boeing 777-200ER will depart Kansai on July 2nd and arrive in Edinburgh (EDI/EGPH), Scotland, while the return leg will leave Heathrow on July 9th and arrive back at Kansai on July 10th. It will be part of Kansai Airport's 20th anniversary events. Kansai was built on 100% reclaimed land in Osaka Bay and opened on September 4th, 1994.

JAL revealed last month (JAL announces Summer 2014 international plans.) that improving financial results and a recovering economy plus the availability of Boeing 787s are having the company consider restarting long-haul routes from Kansai as well as Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG).

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, February 19th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, February 20th. (in Japanese)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Skymark to bring the Airbus A380 to Kobe.

Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) said they are planning to bring the Airbus A380 to Kobe (UKB/RJBE) later this year for display and events. The third largest domestic carrier intends to take delivery of their first example, A380-841 JA380A, around August or September this year, and start utilizing the type in December to inaugurate Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) - New York/John F. Kennedy (JFK/KJFK), their first scheduled international route.
Skymark's first Airbus A380-841, JA380A, takes shape at Toulouse. (Photo: Airbus)

According to President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo, bringing the A380 to Kobe would "be a chance to let people in the Kansai (Greater Osaka) region know that Skymark has a hub in Kobe", implying increased competition with Peach Aviation (MM/APJ). Skymark is the biggest carrier at Kobe flying 19 round-trips daily to Ibaraki (IBR/RJAH), Ishigaki (ISG/ROIG), Kagoshima (KOJ/RJFK), Nagasaki (NGS/RJFU), Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH), Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT), and Yonago (YGJ/RJOH), accounting for about 70% of total flights. Ishigaki will be suspended from March 30th, and Sendai (SDJ/RJSS) will be launched from April 1st.

Kobe celebrated its eighth birthday on February 16th, however, its passenger numbers for fiscal year 2012 was 160,000 less than the year before and has been decreasing. The Greater Osaka region's has three other airports which include Itami (ITM/RJOO), Kansai (KIX/RJBB), and mostly general aviation Yao (RJOY), and the advent of homegrown LCC Peach at Kansai Airport has especially had a big impact on the area's cost-conscious travelers. Skymark, together with Kobe Airport, are pinning hopes that building up routes to secondary cities that LCCs so far cannot profitably fly to would make Kobe a viable domestic hub competing with Kansai and Peach.

Located in Osaka's neighbor city of Kobe, the airport is actually only a 40-to-50-minute train ride from central Osaka, while convenient Itami is about 30 to 40 minutes, and Kansai is farthest at around 1 hour with an express train. However, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) limits the number of flights at Kobe to 30 slot-pairs per day, citing air traffic control (ATC) safety issues which arise from having four airports in a 25-kilometer radius, limiting growth. In reality, this has been seen as a government's move to protect loss-making Kansai Airport's profits and status as Osaka's premier hub, as Kansai sees far less congestion than at Tokyo's Haneda or Narita airports and is not slot-restricted at all.

Source: Asahi Shimbun, February 17th. (in Japanese)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

JAL introduces WAON Jet.

On February 14th, Japan Airlines' (JL/JAL) latest special livery, dubbed 'WAON Jet', entered service. Its inaugural flight was JL1841, service from Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) to Nagasaki (NGS/RJFU).
Boeing 767-346 JA8364 'WAON Jet' awaiting its next flight at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Boeing 767-346 JA8364 was the chosen for the treatment, as part of 'Habatako Nippon! Mirai Wo Nosete' (Fly Japan! Carrying Our Future), a joint project of JAL and AEON, Japan's largest shopping mall developer and Asia's biggest retailer, to celebrate JAL Mileage Bank's (JMB) seventh anniversary of the JMB WAON Card. WAON is AEON group's electronic money system and JMB WAON Card members are able to earn miles using WAON they load on the card.
Close-up of the WAON Jet logo. (Image: AEON)

The special livery placed near the rear of the fuselage consists of WAON's mascot 'Happy WAON' and a mosaic image of Japan, which is an assemblage of 7,610 smiling faces selected from AEON and JAL customers who submitted their photos in November and December 2013. JA8364 will appear on routes from Haneda to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), Hakodate (HKD/RJCH), Izumo (IZO/RJOC), Kagoshima (KOJ/RJFK), Komatsu (KMQ/RJNK), Kumamoto (KMJ/RJFT), Matsuyama (MYJ/RJOM), Nagasaki, Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO), Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC), Takamatsu (TAK/RJOT), and Tokushima (TKS/RJOS), and will remain in the livery until August 31st.

Source: AEON Retail WAON Jet (in Japanese)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Star Flyer returns second Airbus A320 to lessor.

On the morning of February 14th, Star Flyer's (7G/SFJ) second aircraft, Airbus A320-214 JA02MC, left Japan. It departed the airline's base at Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR) as flight 7G9201 and arrived at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL/RPLL) later that day for final maintenance checks prior to its return to lessor GECAS. JA02MC was delivered new to Star Flyer on January 28, 2006.
Airbus A320-214 JA02MC at rainy Haneda Airport in May 2011. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

This leaves only one more 144-seat A320 in the fleet, while others seat 150 passengers. The last, JA04MC, will also be retired after Star Flyer suspends Kitakyushu - Busan/Gimhae (PUS/RKPK), its sole but unprofitable international route, effective March 30th. As part of their restructuring, the low-fare premium carrier is reducing its fleet to nine. Three more A320s were planned for arrival during 2014 - 2015 but deliveries have been indefinitely deferred.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Vanilla Air announces Summer 2014 schedule.

Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA)-based LCC Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) revealed its Summer 2014 schedule, effective from March 30th. No new destinations were announced, however, the new timetable leaves some slack in fleet utilization, so they will probably be announcing them in due course. 100%-parent ANA Holdings, the owner of All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), hinted Hong Kong and Micronesia (Guam and/or Saipan coming?) are possibilities.
Branded 'Flight Kitchen', Vanilla Air offers buy-on-board meals like other LCCs. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Frequency Increases:
Narita - Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) from 3 to 4 daily. *5 daily April 26 - June 30 & October 1 - 25; 6 daily July 1 - September 30.

Frequency Reductions:
Narita - Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) from 4 to 3 daily. *2 daily from August 31.
Narita - Seoul/Incheon (ICN/RKSI) from 4 to 2 daily.
Narita - Taipei/Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP) from 2 to 1 daily. *From October 1.

ANA Holdings also announced that Vanilla Air would have six Airbus A320s by March 2014, eight by March 2015, and 10 by March 2016. Its fourth and fifth aircraft are secondhand aircraft to be transferred from sister carrier ANA, which will retain the 166-seat layout, which is more generous than the standard 180 seats but could complicate operations.

The fledgling carrier which only launched operations on December 20th, 2013 hopes to produce a profit by fiscal year 2016.

Source: Vanilla Air, February 14th. (in Japanese)
Source: ANA Holdings, February 14th. (in Japanese)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Heavy snowfall in Tokyo disrupts flights all over Japan again.

From the afternoon of February 14th until the next morning, Tokyo received its second heavy snowfall in a week, two weekends in a row, virtually closing down the capital's Haneda Airport (HND/RJTT) again.

For domestic flights, All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) canceled 40 and Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) canceled 75 on February 14th, affecting 5,300 and 11,575 customers, respectively. On the following day today, in the morning ANA had already decided to cancel 245 domestic flights and five of Haneda's international flights, affecting 49,140 passengers, while JAL decided to cancel 280 domestic flights and a Haneda - Shanghai/Hongqiao (SHA/ZSSS) round-trip, affecting 42,541 travelers. Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY), Star Flyer (7G/SFJ), and AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do) all warned passengers to check the latest departure information.

Again, Kanto, or the Greater Tokyo region, is not used to snow. 24-hour stand-by snow plowing, practiced in snowy Aomori and Hokkaido, is too costly to be justified for a large airport like Haneda that usually only gets once or twice of trivial snow accumulation in a year.

Source: Aviation Wire, February 15th. (in Japanese)

Friday, February 14, 2014

New AirAsia Japan names CEO; official launch in April.

AirAsia's (AK/AXM) director Tony Fernandes is currently in Japan to finalize plans to re-launch their Japanese unit AirAsia Japan (Mk II), which is expected to commence flights in 2015. Its first incarnation, a joint-venture with All Nippon Airways' (NH/ANA) parent ANA Holdings, was terminated in June 2013 over differences in decision-making. AirAsia Japan ceased operating on October 26th, 2013 and re-launched as Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) on December 20th under 100% ANA control.
Mr. Fernandes' Twitter photo with Mr. Odagiri, Mr. Hata, and their team. (Image: Tony Fernandes)

On February 13th, Mr. Fernandes mentioned on Twitter that they have named former AirAsia Japan (Mk I) (JW/WAJ) head Yoshinori Odagiri its CEO for the new AirAsia Japan, along with naming Osamu Hata, who previously worked with Dell, its CFO.

Mr. Odagiri started with ANA in 1987, and other than a spell with Nippon Cargo Airlines (KZ/NCA) from 1991 to 2000 when the freight airline was still partly owned by ANA, has spent his entire career with the ANA Group going through the Operations and Station Control departments as well as Asia Marketing. He became an executive for the first AirAsia Japan at the time of launch in August 2011, and was named CEO in December 2012, taking over Kazuyuki Iwakata, when financial results weren't improving. June 2013 saw the joint-venture being dissolved, and two months later ANA announced the decision to replace Mr. Odagiri with Tomonori Ishii, a staunch ANA veteran since 1974, and re-brand the airline Vanilla Air. Mr. Odagiri currently serves as an Advisor to Vanilla Air, a largely ceremonial position, but it had been widely expected that he would be quitting.
AirAsia Japan's (Mk I) Airbus A320-214 JA02AJ is now in Indonesia as PK-AZI. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

And who would be what Mr. Fernandes calls "fantastic new partners" in Japan? According to an interview, along with AirAsia are 'up to three' Japanese companies, which he refused to identify, planning to invest up to 70 million USD in start-up capital. A photo on his Twitter showing a meeting with Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, originally an IT venture but now Japan's largest e-commerce firm and a multinational internet business which also owns the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Nippon Professional Baseball) team, may be a hint. Foreign ownership of Japanese airlines is capped at 33%, but having three partners instead of one or two would likely enable AirAsia to retain the biggest share. For the first AirAsia Japan, they erred in giving ANA majority control at 67%.


Now where will the new AirAsia Japan be based at? Mr. Fernandes also declined to comment, however, it is expected to be a 24-hour airport in western Japan, and there are only four: Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG), Kitakyuhsu (KKJ/RJFR), Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH), and Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB). The first AirAsia Japan was based at Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA), but Mr. Fernandes has already ruled it out, calling the slot-regulated and curfew-plagued airport where they "should never have been in the first place".
AirAsia Japan (Mk II) CEO Yoshinori Odagiri also headed Mk I. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

If I may put my two cents in, the top two candidates are probably Chubu Centrair and Kansai. Naha is Peach Aviation's (MM/APJ) second hub and the local population is probably not as large to support two LCCs, and even Peach will use it mostly as a scissors hub to transfer passengers between southeast Asia and the main islands of Japan. Kitakyushu is an alternative airport to Fukuoka, but hometown carrier Star Flyer (7G/SFJ) has so far failed to carve out a market other than a handful of connections to Tokyo.

Kansai is already a hub for Peach with Jetstar Japan (GK/JJP) also intending to make it its second hub after Narita, so competition would be fierce, but the pie is big and the population is getting used to LCCs. Nagoya is Japan's third largest metropolitan area with a population of 8.9 million, but is considered relatively under-served, with ANA providing the bulk of domestic flights and Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) maintaining minimal presence. The issue with Nagoya would be the need to develop the still immature market. In 2013 Chubu Centrair committed to building a LCC terminal, though AirAsia Japan's (Mk I) demise forced the airport to delay plans. AirAsia's long-haul arm AirAsia X (D7/XAX) is launching flights to Chubu Centrair next month, and a local AirAsia network based at this airport strategically located in central Japan would help both by offering a 'Fly-Thru' product.

AirAsia plans to formally announce the new Japanese venture in April. AirAsia Japan (Mk II) plans to launch regional international and domestic routes in 2015 with Airbus A320s, well ahead of Tokyo's hosting of the 2020 Olympics. Exciting times ahead.

Source: Bloomberg Japan, February 14th. (in Japanese)
Source: Tony Fernandes @ Twitter (in English)

*Post edited/updated on March 7th.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Flying orders two Viking Air DHC-6-400 Twin Otters.

On February 12th, Canadian aircraft manufacturer and parts supplier Viking Air announced that a purchase agreement had been reached with First Flying (DAK) for a pair of DHC-6-400 Twin Otter turboprop airliners. They will become the Japanese launch customer for the revamped new-generation version of the venerable STOL (Short TakeOff and Landing) aircraft originally developed by de Havilland Canada back in 1964.
Britten-Norman BN-2B-20 Islander JA5325 arrives at Aguni. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

First Flying will take delivery of both in early 2015. Configured with standard 19 seats, the new aircraft will be deployed on their island-hopping flights in the Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures, in the southernmost region of Japan. First Flying currently flies Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) - Aguni (AGJ/RORA) and Naha - Okinoerabu (OKE/RJKB) - Tokunoshima (TKN/RJKN) with a trio of Pilatus Britten-Norman BN-2B-20 Islanders, and the DHC-6-400s are expected to be replacements.

After purchasing all type certificates from Bombardier Aerospace for all out-of-production models from the DHC-1 to the DHC-7, Viking Air started offering the DHC-6-400 in July 2006. The revamped STOL turboprop boasts more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34/35 engines, Honeywell Primus Apex fully-integrated avionics, deletion of the AC electrical system and beta backup system, modernization of the electrical and lighting system, and composites for non-load-bearing structures such as doors.

Source: FlyTeam, February 12th. (in Japanese)

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka chartered JAL Boeing 787.

Former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Nippon Professional Baseball) pitcher Masahiro Tanaka chartered a Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) Boeing 787 to fly to New York, after a recent signing of a seven-year, 155 million-USD contract with the New York Yankees (Major League Baseball).

Flight JL8808, operated by B787-8 JA824J, departed Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) at 2020 local time, and arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK/KJFK) 10 hours later at 1623 local time. On board the 186-seat Dreamliner (42 Business, 144 Economy) were himself, his wife, three other officials, and his pet dog 'Haru'. It is estimated to have cost around 200,000 USD and it was paid for by himself. Mr. Tanaka chartered the aircraft to "keep himself in the best condition in preparation of the spring camp", according to a Rakuten spokesperson. The Dreamliner was ferried back to Japan later that day empty.

Establishing a NPB record of 26-consecutive-decision wins in 2013 and playing an undisputed role in helping the Sendai-based team win its first ever Nippon Series, it had been increasingly difficult for him to escape the spotlight anywhere he went. But couldn't he have chartered a smaller aircraft?

Source: FlyTeam, February 9th. (in Japanese)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

ANA announes final Boeing 747 farewell tour.

All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) will carry out 'Farewell Boeing 747 America Tour', as the last part of their 'Final 747: Thanks Jumbo' series of events commemorating the retirement of the passenger Jumbo Jet from ANA, and from Japan.
Boeing 747-481/D JA8961 comes in to land at Okinawa's Naha Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The tour will take five days, and will start on April 16th taking participants to Tupelo (TUP/KTUP), to see the airline's ultimate Jumbo Jet, B747-481/D JA8961, make its final landing at the airport in Mississippi, U.S.A. the following day on April 17th. Participants will be invited to take photographs aboard the aircraft upon arrival, sign names and messages on the jetliner, and even help to start dismantling the airliner. ANA's B747-400Ds are being sold to aircraft-recycling firm Universal Asset Management. On April 18th, the group will be escorted to a Boeing 747 farewell party that will take place in Memphis. Participants will leave the following day and arrive back in Japan on April 20th. Prices start at 838,000 JPY for business class, 558,00 JPY for premium economy, and 348,000 for economy. The tickets are being sold by ANA Sales.

Just a few days before the departure of JA8961 from Japan, ANA is also planning 'ANA Maintenance Center & Training Center Tour' on April 13th, to provide enthusiasts one last photo opportunity of their B747 in one of their hangars at Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND/RJTT). Prices start from 14,800 JPY, and ANA will also sell packages that include round-trip domestic flights for those wishing to participate from areas other than the capital. Participants of 'Farewell Boeing 747 America Tour' will be entitled to priority application.
An image on ANA's 'Final 747: Thanks Jumbo!' website. (Image: ANA)

Simply amazing how much effort they are putting in to bid farewell to the 'Queen of the Skies'! Flying in the jetliner to each and every city the type had regular services to in the past, carrying out First Sunrise flights with the jet, bringing in the airplane to tri/quad-jet-banned Osaka's Itami Airport (ITM/RJOO), flying farewell and sightseeing flights, providing flying opportunities for children in the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami-affected areas... and now they've come up with a tour to visit an aircraft boneyard to see the jetliner arrive, and even help start to scrap it. I have never seen an airline take a retirement of an aircraft this far!

Source: All Nippon Airways, February 6th. (in Japanese)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Naha's LCC Terminal goes international.

Naha Airport's (OKA/ROAH) LCC Terminal opened to international flights today on February 10th, after CIQ (customs, immigration, quarantine) facilities were unveiled three days ago. Peach Aviation's (MM/APJ) daily Naha - Taipei/Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP) flight moved over from the airport's International Terminal. The first flight using the new facility, MM923, departed at 1257 local time with 171 passengers bound for Taoyuan.
Airbus A320-214 JA806P taxies at Okinawa's Naha Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

In October 2012, Naha became the first Japanese airport to accommodate a terminal dedicated for LCCs, when All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) converted a leased cargo hangar into a simple terminal. It is currently being used by Peach, minority-owned by ANA, and Vanilla Air (JW/VNL), 100%-owned by ANA. However, without CIQ until now, for its Taiwan service Peach had to bus its passengers to the LCC Terminal from the International Terminal after they had passed immigrations. 

Growing Peach has announced that its Naha hub, its second after Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB), will be operational on July 19th, coinciding with the delivery of their 13th Airbus A320 and the basing of one aircraft there (Peach announces Naha - Fukuoka.). Strategically located, they intend to use the Naha hub to funnel passengers between the main islands of Japan and southeast Asia. "Our A320s cannot reach southeast Asia from Kansai, but the Naha hub would enable us to meet the growing demand to and from that region", Peach CEO Shinichi Inoue enthused. He added that Thailand and Vietnam are markets he would like to tap into "as early as possible".

Meanwhile, Naha will also open its all-new International Terminal on February 17th.

Source: Aviation Wire, February 10th. (in Japanese)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Heavy snowfall in Greater Tokyo disrupts flights nationwide.

The Kanto (Greater Tokyo) region's heaviest snowfall in 45 years disrupted operations at the nation's busiest airport in Haneda (HND/RJTT) on February 8th, and it continued on to the following day today as airlines struggled to reposition their aircraft and crews. It had a ripple effect to essentially all airports in Japan, as most main-line aircraft are based at Haneda.

Yesterday, Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) and its group carriers together canceled 304 domestic and three international flights, affecting approximately 52,000 and 470 passengers, respectively, while All Nippon Airways' (NH/ANA) group canceled 274 domestic and two international flights, affecting 46,300 and 300 passengers, respectively. Several other flights suffered lengthy delays or were diverted to other airports. Today on February 9th, JAL canceled 206 domestic and 37 international flights, affecting 41,009 passengers, while ANA canceled 101 domestic flights, affecting about 15,000 people. Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) canceled 50 flights yesterday and another 30 today. Star Flyer (7G/SFJ) and AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do) among others all reported cancellations and warned travelers of potential delays. Jetstar Japan (GK/JJP) canceled 34 flights on February 9th, affecting 5899 people.

Tokyo saw 27 centimeters of snow, a record in 45 years, while neighboring Chiba reported 33 centimeters, an all-time record. Ishinomaki, near Sendai in the northeast, recorded 38 centimeters, its heaviest in 91 years. Unlike the snowy prefectures of Aomori, Hokkaido, or northwestern Japan, Kanto along with east Japan are not used to life with snow; infrastructure is vulnerable against snow and stand-by snow-plowing equipment are minimal.

Source: Aviation Wire, February 10th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, February 9th. (in Japanese) 

*Post edited/updated on February 10th.

25th & 26th Boeing 787s for ANA; first B787-9 due in summer.

All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) had two Boeing 787s delivered in two days. These are the first in the fleet to wear ANA's standard livery, without the billboard '787' titles.

Their 25th Dreamliner, B787-8 JA827A, which is their eighth long-haul-configured example, arrived at Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) as flight NH9399 on February 7th. The following day, their 26th, B787-8 JA825A, which is their 11th domestic-configured machine, was supposed to arrive at Tokyo/Haneda as NH9397 from Paine Field (PAE/KPAE) but diverted to Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) on February 8th after Tokyo's heaviest snowfall in 45 years almost closed down the capital's airport.
Boeing 787-8 JA801A taxiing at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

For long-haul B787s, ANA has two configurations with seating for 158 (46 Business, 112 Economy) and 169 (46 Business, 21 Premium Economy, 102 Economy), though the former is being converted to the latter. Their medium-haul Dreamliners seat 222 (42 Business, 180 Economy), while domestic B787s seat 335 (12 Premium Class, 323 Economy). By the way, wondering why registration 'JA826A' is skipped? It is already being used by a Bell 412 helicopter belonging to the Aomori Prefectural Police.

Meanwhile, ANA announced that their first B787-9 is due in summer this year. Three will be delivered this year; two for domestic and one for international. The configuration of these aircraft will be released in the coming months. ANA has a total of 36 B787-8s and 30 stretched B787-9s on order.

Source: All Nippon Airways, January 22nd. (in Japanese)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fuji Dream Airlines to fly charters to Oki and from Izumo.

Fuji Dream Airlines (JH/FDA) will operate one-way charters from Shizuoka (FSZ/RJNS) to Oki (OKI/RJNO), an island 50 kilometers northwest of Yonago in Shimane prefecture, on March 8th and 12th. Return flights will depart from Izumo (IZO/RJOC) and fly back to Shizuoka on March 10th and 14th, respectively.
Embraer ERJ170-200/STD (E175) JA05FJ 'Orange' at Nagoya's Komaki Airport. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

This sightseeing tour that will visit the major attractions of Shimane prefecture is being sold by Japan's biggest travel packages firm JTB. Fuji Dream had stated that their eighth aircraft, an Embraer E175 which will arrive in March, will enable them to fly more charters.

Source: FlyTeam, February 6th. (in Japanese)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CoachFlyer 6J034: NGS - HND on Solaseed Air's Boeing 737.

Travel date: October 2013
Flight: 6J034
Route: Nagasaki (NGS/RJFU) - Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT)
Carrier: Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ) d.b.a. Solaseed Air
Aircraft: Boeing 737-43Q JA737B
Class: Economy
Direct distance: 954 km (593 miles)
Flight time: 1 hour 26 minutes

Nagasaki Airport, located in Omura city, is about a one-hour bus ride from Nagasaki city. As we checked in at 0840 at All Nippon Airways' (NH/ANA) counter, which handles flights for Solaseed Air at Nagasaki, we moved on to the second floor of the terminal to find some gifts we had forgotten to buy for some of our friends. There were ample souvenir shops. We then walked to the observation deck, which gave us a full view of the tarmac and about half of the runway.
Boeing 737-43Q JA737B waiting for 6J034 at Nagasaki. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

We passed security at 0900, which was a breeze as there was only one other flight leaving, and a walk to Gate 7, where our flight 6J034 service to Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND/RJTT) was waiting, didn't take a minute. Boarding had started, and we were on the aircraft within minutes. The door was closed at 0911 and we started push-back three minutes later, one minute before scheduled departure. After a taxi to the threshold of Runway 32, we took off at 0922, local time. At 0929, the seat-belt signs were turned off and the flight attendants first started to hand out blankets. As we gradually banked right and headed northeast, we could see the city of Fukuoka, Kyushu's largest city, to our left.
City of Fukuoka near the middle of the photo. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

In-flight service commenced about 10 minutes into the flight. Solaseed Air provides a small choice of complementary beverages which includes 'agodashi' soup (flying-fish-broth soup, a local favorite), hot coffee, cold green tea, apple juice, and water. Local sweets can be bought on board, though prices are a bit high; for example a box of eight cookies cost 1,000 JPY. At 0942, our Captain Mr. Omori made his welcome announcement and informed us that we would be passing Oita soon. In-flight shopping started about 10 minutes later.
Solaseed Air's in-flight magazine 'Sola-Tane'. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Our ship for this day was Boeing 737-43Q JA737B, which began its career with defunct Istanbul Airlines (IL/IST) back on June 12, 1998. It later saw service with short-lived Belgian airline CityBird (H2/CTB) from January 2000 until October 2001, and in February 2002 it migrated to Japan to be part of the original two-aircraft fleet of Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ), Japan's third start-up after Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) and Hokkaido International Airlines (HD/ADO) (now Air Do) when Japan deregulated the domestic market. The airline re-branded itself Solaseed Air in July 2011, but its legal name remains the former name.
The Greater Osaka region right below us. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

At 1004 we flew right past Osaka's Kansai Airport (KIX/RJBB). We traveled along the east coast of Japan to the northeast and Mt. Fuji could be seen on our left side around 1025. Just a few minutes after passing Japan's highest peak, descent started, somewhere above Izu Peninsula. At 1036, the seat-belt lights were turned on, and lining up for Runway 34L, often called the 'A Runway', the B737's gears were lowered about eight minutes later. We touched down at 1048, local time, finishing a one-hour-and-26-minute flight. We taxied to Terminal 2, which is used by ANA and its affiliates, and arrived at Gate 52 at 1054, just a minute earlier than scheduled.
The cabin of Boeing 737-43Q JA737B. Seats show their age. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Skynet Asia Airways, originally called Pan Asia Airways at the time of set-up in July 1997, changed to its current legal name two years later and moved its headquarters from Fukuoka to Miyazaki in September 2000. Flights were launched on August 1, 2002, connecting Miyazaki (KMI/RJFM) and Haneda, boasting low-fares, the lowest seating density at 150 seats per B737, and locally-produced beverages on board. Failing to attract enough customers even after launching additional cities in Kyushu, June 2004 saw the airline asking the Japanese government for bankruptcy protection. ANA became the number two shareholder after the government, and since then, the carrier has gradually been transformed into a feeder airline for ANA, operating routes and flights to and from the Kyushu area that are not so profitable at ANA's costs.
Mt. Fuji. Right below us is the Izu Peninsula. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Today, Solaseed Air is owned 27.75% by the Development Bank of Japan, 23.97% by an arm of the local Miyazaki Kohtsu Group, 8.56% by ANA Holdings, and among others, and is currently in the process of replacing its aging secondhand B737-400s with brand-new B737-800s. Yes, they do have its own reservations system and sells tickets on their own as well, with our ticket bought at a low 9,500 JPY 45 days in advance, but other than that, frankly speaking, there's not so much special about the airline. It now operates Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) flights as well, but these were also virtually 'transferred' from ANA, and now their entire network code-shares with ANA. For Solaseed Air, it relies on ANA's code-shares to make both ends meet, and for ANA, it's a lower-cost 'de facto' subsidiary that holds some precious Haneda slots.