Monday, February 15, 2016

Spring Airlines Japan launches Wuhan and Chongqing.

On February 13th, Spring Airlines Japan [IJ/SJO] launched its first international service from Tokyo/Narita [NRT/RJAA] to Wuhan [WUH/ZHHH], followed by Chongqing [CKG/ZUCK] the following day on February 14th. Thus, the affiliate of Spring Airlines [9C/CQH] became the first Japanese LCC to serve mainland China. Regulator Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) had granted the fledgling airline approval to operate international routes on December 16th (Spring Airlines Japan granted approval to go international.). All flights are operated by 189-seat Boeing 737-800s.

Boeing 737-86N(WL) JA03GR rotates from Narita for her maiden flight to Wuhan. Spring Airlines Japan has so far capped its fleet at just three aircraft. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Maiden international flight IJ1011 departed Narita at 1024 JST, four minutes behind schedule, with a load of 138 passengers including 11 infants. 737-86N(WL) JA03GR was assigned. Wuhan started with a three-times-weekly frequency, operating on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, while Chongqing runs four times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Both round-trips are timed to depart Narita in the morning for an afternoon arrival into the Chinese cities and an evening return to Japan.

Flight Schedule:
Narita – Wuhan NEW 3 weekly with B737-800.
IJ1011 NRT 1020 – 1415 WUH 73H Mo/We/Sa
IJ1012 WUH 1515 – 1940 NRT 73H Mo/We/Sa

Narita – Chongqing NEW 4 weekly with B737-800.
IJ1021 NRT 0900 – 1415 CKG 73H Tu/Th/Fr/Su
IJ1022 CKG 1515 – 2025 NRT 73H Tu/Th/Fr/Su

"As a group, we are looking forward to bringing more Chinese tourists to Japan, and hopefully more Japanese to China as well," said Wang Zhenghua, Chairman of Spring Airlines Group, while the Japanese affiliate's President Hiroshi Ukai enthused "This is our first step to build our international network. We will be adding many more destinations from Narita to China." Lanzhou [LHW/ZLLL] has been mentioned as the possible next city, while Osaka/Kansai [KIX/RJBB] and Sapporo/New Chitose [CTS/RJCC] have been evaluated as the next domestic destinations (Spring Airlines Japan plans Kansai, Sapporo, and China.).

Having commenced operations in August 2014 (Spring Airlines Japan commences operations.), Spring Airlines Japan was founded given the specific mission to connect Chinese cities with the main international airport serving Tokyo, which would be difficult for its Chinese parent to accomplish due to restrictions and politics that protect government-owned Air China [CA/CCA], China Eastern Airlines [MU/CES], and China Southern Airlines [CZ/CSN]. For example, Narita – Chongqing already had Air China operating daily, while Narita – Wuhan sees twice-weekly China Southern service, so approval to enter the markets by Spring Airlines would not have come easy, and Spring Airlines Japan is the group's answer to get around with it.

Peer LCCs Jetstar Japan [GK/JJP], Peach Aviation [MM/APJ], and Vanilla Air [JW/VNL], have all omitted the Chinese market so far, due to them having small or no brand recognition in China, a higher cost base than its Chinese counterparts, and political tensions, though now to a lesser extent. Peach has mulled Shanghai for some time but has remained quiet, while Vanilla Air only recently announced its commitment to China (Vanilla Air eyes China, Southeast Asia, and Okinawa hub.). Being able to take advantage of its parent's brand awareness as well as the group's distribution channels puts Spring Airlines Japan in the best position among Japanese LCCs to serve the booming China – Japan market. While there are still more Japanese visiting China than Chinese traveling to Japan, the latter is fast increasing while the former is declining.

In other news, in December 2015, Japanese electronics retailer Bic Camera and housing firm Sekisui House announced plans to acquire stakes in Spring Airlines Japan. The former has invested 1 billion JPY to control 6% of the LCC's voting shares, and will have the airline promote its products and hand out discount vouchers eligible for use at its stores. Additionally, it may also be allocated seats for promotions. Meanwhile, the latter is looking to invest 3 billion JPY for an 18% share by the end of March. Japan's largest housing company is looking to partner with the Spring Airlines Group in opening a chain of budget hotels in Japan under the brand Spring Sunny Hotel. It would be a joint-venture (JV) between the LCC group and a Japanese real estate management company Sun Frontier Fudousan.

Source: Nikkei Shimbun, 2015 December 22nd. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2015 December 22nd. (in Japanese)
Source: Nikkei Shimbun, 2015 December 23rd. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, 2016 February 13rd. (in Japanese)

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