Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hokkaido Air System to resume three intra-island routes.

Hokkaido Air System [HC/NTH] (unofficially referred to as HAC) is planning to resume three intra-Hokkaido routes; Hakodate [HKD/RJCH] – Kushiro [KUH/RJCK], Hakodate – Asahikawa [AKJ/RJEC], and Sapporo/Okadama [OKD/RJCO] – Memanbetsu [MMB/RJCM]. These routes were suspended by January 2013, after Japan Airlines [JL/JAL] reduced its shareholding in the commuter carrier to 14% in March 2011 as part of their restructuring and axed all code-shares. On October 24th, JAL raised that figure back to majority ownership again (JAL raises Hokkaido Air System stake to 51%.).

Saab SF340B-WT JA02HC rests between flights at Misawa. Two of its three airframes still retain JAL Group's old Arc of the Sun livery. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

According to an interview by Nikkei Shimbun, Yoichiro Kuwano, HAC's new President effective March 31st did not give any time frame regarding when the resumption would take place. The JAL veteran who came from Operations Management replaced Chihiro Tamura, another JAL manager from the same field.

Meanwhile, Hakodate – Misawa [MSJ/RJSM] is expected to be restarted as early as July as a seasonal service operating on weekends and holidays during the peak summer vacation travel months in cooperation with the parent company. It was initially launched in August 2013 with a daily service, in addition to the daily Okadama – Misawa round-trip (CoachFlyer HC330: MSJ - OKD on Hokkaido Air System's Saab SF340.), but was suspended in December, and though it was resumed in April 2014 operating on weekends and holidays (Hokkaido Air System to resume Hakodate - Misawa.), it was dropped again in November.

FY2014 saw HAC record its highest number of annual passengers at 184,000, a 6% increase over the previous year. "We've been concentrating on maintaining safe and stable operations, and we believe that paid dividends," said Mr. Kuwano, who stressed that that emphasis would continue. Passenger numbers plummeted when the tiny regional airline suffered a landing incident and a maintenance mishap in 2011, which were well-covered by local media. Its system-wide load factor for FY2014 was 62.8%. "Most of our customers use us for business travel, so there should still be lots we could tap into in the leisure market," said Mr. Kuwano, eager to improve that figure. HAC intends to boost sales through increasing promotional fares as well as package tours in conjunction with JAL.

From its hub at Okadama, the smaller but more convenient airport near downtown of Hokkaido's capital, HAC currently operates to Hakodate, Kushiro, Misawa, and Rishiri [RIS/RJER], plus a link to Okushiri [OIR/RJEO] from Hakodate, using a fleet of three 36-seat Saab SF340Bs. Its oldest aircraft is now over 17 years old, and HAC will start considering replacement by the end of FY2015. Sister carrier Japan Air Commuter [3X/JAC] also operates 10 SF340s, and Mr. Kuwano said "The successor would be evaluated together with other JAL group companies."

Source: Nikkei Shimbun, April 23rd. (in Japanese)

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