Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New AirAsia Japan takeoff slipping to Summer 2016?

Effective December 1st, AirAsia Japan [DJ] revamped its board by essentially relegating CEO Yoshinori Odagiri to Adviser, a largely ceremonial position, and instead promoting CFO Osamu Hata to CEO and hiring bankrupt Skymark Airlines' [BC/SKY] former Chairman Takashi Ide as Chairman and former President Masakazu Arimori as CFO (AirAsia Japan CEO to quit, ex-Skymark executives coming.). But what made AirAsia Group swap management during such important times when it is preparing to launch operations?

Airbus A320-216(SL) JA01DJ/F-WWBV seen before delivery. It was handed over to AirAsia Japan on October 9th, and arrived at Japan on October 16th. Their second aircraft, to be adorned with a special livery designed by Mika Ninagawa, will be delivered in February. (Photo: Tobias Gudat)

Reportedly, there was unmendable distrust between James Rhee, North Asia CEO for the AirAsia Group, and Mr. Odagiri. Japan's fifth LCC had been set back with a nine-month delay (AirAsia Japan is officially reborn; first flight June 2015.), largely due to shifting strategy to focus more on the international market rather than domestic, difficulties in recruiting pilots and setting up a maintenance scheme, and much-longer-than-anticipated preparation to apply for an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC), which it received on October 6th (New AirAsia Japan receives AOC; takeoff in April 2016.). But without Mr. Odagiri's strenuous yet patience-necessary talks with regulator Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), AirAsia Japan could not have obtained it. However, Mr. Rhee could not wait any longer.

On the other hand, Mr. Hata, who previously worked as CEO for Dell Japan, does not have any experience in the airline industry, let alone a unique market like Japan. So talks to headhunt the former Skymark duo reportedly started as early as late September, when they withdrew from Japan's embattled third largest airline after sponsors Integral Corporation and ANA Holdings installed a new board (Skymark relaunched with ANA sponsorship.). Mr. Ide and Mr. Arimori had maintained both official and personal relationships with Mr. Fernandes; the first AirAsia Japan (Mk I) was originally planned to be a joint-venture (JV) with Skymark until ANA stepped in, while AirAsia Group bid to sponsor Skymark (ANA and AirAsia bid to save Skymark.), and at one time Mr. Ide envisioned merging Skymark with the new AirAsia Japan in the long-term. But all of this was politically difficult as Skymark held 36 precious slot-pairs at heavily-regulated Tokyo/Haneda [HND/RJTT] (AirAsia admits Skymark bid defeat, Japan unit delay to 2016.).

Meanwhile, its first aircraft, Airbus A320-216(SL) JA01DJ, which had arrived on October 18th (New AirAsia Japan receives first Airbus A320.), remained dormant at Nagoya/Chubu Centrair [NGO/RJGG], as the airline still did not have a working maintenance team. The aircraft's battery died and its auxiliary power unit (APU) went out of order, and it was not able to have an engine run-up until early December. Training flights were expected by November, but that too has been pushed back to at least January. It is widely believed that its current April 2016 in-service target could be missed by several months. Sources close to the matter also point out that it has already used almost half of its initial 7 billion JPY capital, and cash injections are likely necessary as it takes delivery of its second A320 in February and more employees come on-line.

Can the ex-Skymark duo guide AirAsia Japan? They have wide and deep knowledge of the domestic market and expertise in running a low-cost operation in Japan's unique economic and regulatory environment, however, that said Skymark's success centered around its prized slots at Haneda while AirAsia Japan is based at Chubu Centrair, and Skymark has been a purely domestic carrier while AirAsia Japan plans to allocate at least 55% of its capacity to international. And there is reportedly already looming distrust between employees and the new management, and rumors point out Mr. Hata may be leaving the airline as well.

AirAsia Japan is a stepping stone for the AirAsia Group to expand its network to North America, and also has the potential to bring true (non-ANA/JAL) competition back to Japan. Hopes are still high AirAsia Japan would keep Mr. Fernandes' words, "This is Part 2 of AirAsia Japan's performance, and it will be the last. There won't be a third."

Source: Diamond Online, 2015 December 7th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 December 16th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 December 17th. (in Japanese)

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