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.

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