Monday, June 30, 2014

JAL SKY Wi-Fi to be launched on July 23rd.

On June 30th, Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) announced that July 23rd would be the launch date for their domestic in-flight Wi-Fi product dubbed JAL SKY Wi-Fi. Initial routes that will see the service are from Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), Hakodate (HKD/RJCH), and Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO), with selected flights offering the service. JAL thus becomes the first Japanese airline to offer domestic in-flight internet connectivity.
Boeing 777-289 JA007D with JAL Sky Next decals prepares for departure from Fukuoka. It became the first aircraft to receive the new interior. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Aircraft that offer Wi-Fi are those that have been refurbished with JAL's Sky Next new domestic interiors (JAL's first Sky Next 777 enters service.) with all-new leather seats and carpets, plus Dreamliner-style LED mood lighting. Partnering with U.S.A.-based Gogo, which will provide satellite connection, passengers will be able to use their smartphones, tablets, or laptop computers to surf the internet, check e-mail, or update their social networking services (SNS) pages like Facebook or Twitter.

Two payment plans will be available; one offering 30 minutes use at 400 JPY, while the other offers unlimited access with price depending on the type of the mobile device and the length of the flight. Fees are set at 500 JPY for all gadgets on flights less than 450 miles (e.g. Tokyo – Osaka), 500 JPY for smartphones and 700 JPY for tablets/laptops on flights between 451 and 650 miles (e.g. Tokyo – Fukuoka), and 700 JPY for smartphones and 1,200 JPY for tablets/laptops for flights over 651 miles (e.g. Tokyo – Okinawa).
Watch out for this logo when boarding and inside the aircraft. (Image: JAL)

Payment must be made by a credit card upon establishing a connection. However, those who are unwilling to pay will still have access to JAL's complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi program, including daily news, travel tips, and sightseeing information about the destination.

The number of access points will vary depending on the aircraft, with Boeing 777s getting six while 737s receiving three, but it will be accessible from anywhere on the aircraft. Specifications for the wireless LAN network are IEEE802.11a/b/g/n. Current plans call for four 777-300s, 12 777-200s, 20 767-300/300ERs, and 41 737-800s to have completed the revamp to JAL Sky Next by mid-2016. Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) is expected to be the next city to receive the service in August.

Reference: Japan Airlines, June 30th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Aviation Wire, June 30th. (in Japanese)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fuji Dream starts Okadama summer charter.

On June 28th, Fuji Dream Airlines (JH/FDA) launched summer charter service between Nagoya/Komaki (NKM/RJNA) and Sapporo/Okadama (OKD/RJCO). It will be operated every Saturday until September 20th, and will fly round-trip except for today and the last day. Hankyu Travel International is chartering the aircraft to transport participants of their Hokkaido and Sakhalin in 8 Days cruising tour from Nagoya to Japan's big island in the north, and therefore the flights are not offered for sale.
Embraer ERJ170-100STD (E170) JA04FJ Green at Fukuoka. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The flight is operated by Embraer ERJ170-100STDs (E170) and JA02FJ Light Blue was assigned for the inaugural today. After arrival at Okadama, Sapporo's compact airport nearer to downtown than its big sister Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC), participants are bused to Otaru to board Princess Cruises' Sun Princess for an eight-day cruise through Hakodate, Muroran, Kushiro, Abashiri, Karapto (Sakhalin in Russian), and back to Otaru.

Flight schedule (June 28th - September 20th):
JH5313 NKM 1125 – 1305 OKD E70 Sat *Does not operate on Sep/20.
JH5314 OKD 1520 – 1710 NKM E70 Sat *Does not operate on Jun/28.

FDA had been carrying out various tests at Okadama, some involving actual aircraft to check the E170's landing and takeoff performance with the 1,500-meter runway and measure noise footprint; a round-trip test flight was carried out on July 7th, 2013, followed by a one-time charter flight with actual passengers on board on November 16th. Noise pollution along with various other data will be collected during July and August this year as well.

Hokkaido and Sapporo's officials have had the idea of extending Okadama's runway to 1,800 meters to accommodate scheduled jet flights, however, locals have so far been opposed to it, citing noise issues and a possible subsequent increase of Japan Self Defense Force (JASDF) activity. FDA President Yohei Suzuki believes "Sapporo can support a dual airport strategy with two respective roles."

FDA is dramatically increasing the share of charter flights this year (Fuji Dream Airlines to fly charters to Oki and from Izumo.) (FDA plans charters to Aomori, Hokkaido, and Okinawa.), made possible with the arrival of their eighth aircraft (Fuji Dream Airlines receives eighth E-Jet 'Tea Green'.), in bid to explore niche markets and avoid head-to-head competition. Hokkaido has been their primary focus so far, with 98 charter flights connecting Wakkanai (WKJ/RJCW), the northernmost tip of Hokkaido, with Komaki, Matsumoto (MMJ/RJAF), Niigata (KIJ/RJSN), and Shizuoka (FSZ/RJNS) as well this summer, in addition to the Okadama charter.

Although FDA is the sole carrier at Nagoya's older airport 20 minutes by bus from central Nagoya, they compete on some overlapping routes from Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG), now reduced to a 30-minute express-train ride from Nagoya Station. The Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) route is fiercest; FDA flies five round-trips (code-sharing with Japan Airlines), while All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) operates six daily, Star Flyer (7G/SFJ) three daily (Star Flyer to add ANA's code on all flights.), IBEX Airlines (FW/IBX) once daily (code-sharing with ANA), and Jetstar Japan (GK/JJP) once daily. Growing LCCs also pose a threat, with Jetstar Japan willing to expand and AirAsia Japan (Mk II) expected to launch from Chubu Centrair (New AirAsia Japan to be based at Nagoya Chubu Centrair.) in 2015.

Reference: City of Sapporo, June 24th. (PDF; in Japanese)
Reference: FlyTeam, June 25th (in Japanese)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

AirAsia and Rakuten to announce AirAsia Japan on July 1st.

Japan's largest e-commerce firm Rakuten will reportedly be AirAsia Group's primary Japanese partner to launch the new AirAsia Japan (Mk II). The new LCC plans to launch domestic and regional international routes from Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) in summer 2015 using Airbus A320s. AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes and Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani are expected to hold a joint press conference on July 1st.
AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes speaking at the New Economy Summit 2014 held in Tokyo in April. (Photo: AFP)

The Malaysian LCC's first attempt at the Japanese market with AirAsia Japan (JW/WAJ) (Mk I) (CoachFlyer JW8541: NRT - FUK on AirAsia Japan's Airbus A320.) ended in a divorce with joint-venture (JV) partner All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) only 10 months after launching operations in August 2012, due to disagreements over how the airline would be run and other complicated reasons. Operations ceased on October 26th, 2013, and the airline restarted as Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) on December 20th under 100% ANA ownership (Vanilla Air launches operations.). 

Asked about the deal, a Rakuten spokesperson commented "There is nothing to disclose at this moment." Rakuten operates Rakuten Travel, a popular internet-based travel website, and AirAsia would be able utilize Rakuten's extensive domestic distribution channels, while Rakuten would be able to tap into the booming intra-Asian travel market through AirAsia. This partnership could become crucial, since Japan's general public prefers booking through travel agencies and participate in package tours, instead of purchasing tickets directly from airlines and making travel itineraries on their own.

AirAsia (AK/AXM) intends to hold 33%, the maximum possible figure under Japan's airline foreign ownership rules, while the remainder will be split among two to three companies including Rakuten. However, three would enable AirAsia to retain the highest share. Earlier this February, Mr. Fernandes had revealed that talks were underway involving 'like-minded' listed Japanese companies to invest up to 70 million USD in initial start-up capital. For their failed first try (Mk I), they had erred in giving ANA majority control at 67%.

AirAsia is currently using a legal vehicle named Air Innovation, which in March set up AAJR, the body that would become the new airline. AAJR was officially renamed AirAsia Japan on May 1st and registered their headquarters at Chubu Centrair (New AirAsia Japan to be based at Nagoya Chubu Centrair.). AirAsia's new Japanese unit will be led by CEO Yoshinori Odagiri, former CEO of AirAsia Japan (Mk I) (JW/WAJ) and CFO Osamu Hata, Dell's former Japan unit head (New AirAsia Japan names CEO; official launch in April.).

Reference: Toyo Keizai, June 26th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Nikkei Shimbun, June 26th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Asahi Shimbun, June 26th. (in Japanese)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ANA Mileage Club offers redemption on Vanilla Air.

Starting July 5th, All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) will allow members of their frequent-flyer program ANA Mileage Club (AMC) to redeem miles on Vanilla Air (JW/VNL). Application for award tickets will be available from July 1st until up to four days prior to the departure date. The Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA)-based LCC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANA Holdings, parent of ANA.
Airbus A320-211 JA8385 taxies for departure at Sapporo's New Chitose. As one of three secondhand examples transferred from ANA, it is in a hybrid scheme with ANA's gray belly. It will be retired in November after Vanilla Air's own new additional A320s have arrived. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

All of Vanilla Air's routes are covered in the partnership, including Narita – Amami (ASJ/RJKA), which will be launched on July 1st (Vanilla Air announces Amami Oshima.) and will become the first all-new route after molting from defunct AirAsia Japan (Mk I) (JW/WAJ) (Vanilla Air launches operations.). One-way award tickets will be offered for domestic routes, while international will only have round-trip redemption available and also only from Narita and not from an overseas destination.

AMC will offer Vanilla Air award tickets at lower miles compared to ANA; a round-trip award fare from Tokyo to Sapporo starts from 15,000 miles on ANA but 10,000 on Vanilla Air. A round-trip to Seoul starts from 15,000 miles for both airlines, however, at ANA the passenger would need to pay for fuel surcharge. For booking, AMC members need to call the Vanilla Air reservations center, which is open from 10AM to 4PM JST.

From its Narita hub, the fledgling LCC currently serves Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH), Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC), Seoul/Incheon (ICN/RKSI), and Taipei/Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP) with a fleet of six Airbus A320s. The deal helps Vanilla Air fill its seats and receive a stable income from sister ANA, but is also a sign of their continued struggle to make their business case work, as frequent-flyer partnerships had been ruled out before. With the new agreement, AMC will boast 34 airline partners including its fellow Star Alliance members.

Reference: All Nippon Airways, June 24th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Aviation Wire, June 24th. (in Japanese)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CoachFlyer PG284: HKT – BKK on Bangkok Air's Airbus A320.

Travel date: March 2014
Flight: PG284
Route: Phuket (HKT/VTSP) – Bangkok/Suvarnabumi (BKK/VTBS)
Carrier: Bangkok Airways (PG/BKP)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-232 HS-PPH
Class: Economy 
Direct distance: 672 kilometers (417 miles)
Flight time: 1 hour 11 minutes
Sistership Airbus A320-232 HS-PPD Flying Bags lines up for departure at hazy Suvarnabhumi. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Knowing that we would be encountering traffic congestion around the airport, we arrived at 1000, about half an hour before departure time, to return our rental car. Inconveniently, some rental car offices are only located inside the arrivals hall just outside the baggage claim, so we needed to get ourselves checked before we literally back-tracked to that area.  
Bangkok Air's check-in counters in domestic Terminal 2. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Phuket International Airport (HKT/VTSP) is Thailand's third busiest airport, processing 11.3 million passengers in 2013. Terminal expansion has not been able to catch up with the growth; parking space is scarce and the relatively small and old Terminal 1 and 2, catering for international and domestic, respectively, is long overdue for a replacement. A new international terminal planned for 2015 is currently under construction, and the current two terminals will receive a renovation and serve domestic flights. 
The congested departures area beyond security check. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Check-in counters are located on the second floor and we were checked in at Bangkok Airways' (PG/BKP) (often shortened to simply Bangkok Air) counters by 1020. Since we had bought a promotion fare, our baggage allowance was limited to 20 kilograms per person, and with our suitcases weighing 25 kilograms each (bought lots of local packaged foods), we had to pay 80 THB per kilogram overweight. Bangkok Air and Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) recently started partnering with reciprocal mile accrual and redemption, but the staff at the counter was unaware and it took us some time for the counter agent to register our JAL Mileage Bank numbers. And even so, it later turned out that it wasn't logged, and we had to call JAL and send them our tickets after returning to Japan to have our miles accrued.
Bangkok Air's Boutique Lounge at Phuket. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

However, a nice thing was that since my wife was pregnant, they kindly placed us in the front section of the all-economy cabin and blocked off the middle seat for us. The departures hall was packed with people, so we decided to move on to security, located in the southern end of the building for domestic flights. We passed through at 1030. It wasn't busy, but there weren't any priority lanes available. We then headed to Bangkok Air's lounge located in the farthest corner of the domestic departures hall, adjacent to rival Thai Airways International's (TG/THA) (THAI) Royal Silk Lounge. Bangkok Air touts itself as Asia's Boutique Airline, and one of the noteworthy positives is that they offer a lounge to all passengers. It offers plenty of western snacks and drinks, as well as a descent selection of Thai and English newspapers.
Our Airbus A320-232 HS-PPH. Still mostly white and without a name. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Boarding started at 1100 at Gate 66B, and they split the load into two groups according to their seats to make the process less chaotic; Zone 2 (Rows 14-28) boarded first, followed by Zone 1 (Row 1-12). We climbed down the stairs, where a bus was waiting to carry us to Spot 2, near the eastern end of the apron, where Airbus A320-232 HS-PPH was parked. We boarded using the airstair. Our seats were in row two, and in row one was a buddhist monk dressed in a typical saffron robe. Doors were closed at 1121 and as the cockpit crew were making their final check-ups, the cabin crew went through the cabin to hand out refreshing towels. Push back started at 1125, five minutes ahead of schedule, and we were moving on our own in four minutes.
Climbing above the hills of Koh Phang Nga province. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Albeit the early departure, we had to wait at the threshold of Runway 9 to wait for two incoming aircraft; a Dragonair (KA/HDA) Airbus A321 from Hong Kong and a private jet. Phuket Airport is equipped with only one runway, and located in an isthmus-like area of the island between the hills to the north and south, there is no room for another. With our two IAE V2527-A5 engines roaring, we finally took off at 1139 and banked to the left heading north, flying over the rocky islands made of limestone of Phang Nga province. Four minutes after takeoff, the seat-belt lights were turned off and the flight attendants started their in-flight services just a few minutes later.
Our meal for the flight. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Although there is no warmed food, Bangkok Air serves a full meal pre-set on trays. Today's menu consisted of a salad, a plate of slices of ham, pickles, vegetables, a bun, raspberry cake, plus a cup of water, which is more than enough for a merely 70-minute flight. Rounds of coffee, tea, water, and orange juice were also offered. At 1205, Captain 'Khun' Manoon made his welcome announcement and informed us we were flying at 32,000 feet. Weather at Bangkok would be partly cloudy with temperatures at 33 degrees Celsius. Five minutes later, our meal trays were collected, and gradual descent into Suvarnabhumi started just a few minutes later.
Airbus A320-232 HS-PPH still retained the seats of former operator TAM. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Our aircraft for this day, HS-PPH, made its maiden flight on April 28th, 2006. The eight-year-old aircraft is one of a batch ordered by Singapore-based BOC Aviation, a subsidiary of Bank of China, and originally started out its career on lease to TAM Airlines (JJ/TAM) wearing the registration PR-MBC. From delivery on May 18, 2006, it spent flying in South American skies from Brazil until being returned to the lessor in August 2013. It was leased to Bangkok Air on December 7th, 2013. At the time we flew, the aircraft was still wearing a basic white scheme (Bangkok Air is famous for their colorful liveries) with only their logo on her tail and small titles in the front, and also still without a name. The A320 also retained 174 seats and its interior from the TAM era.
Flying north along the coast of Gulf of Thailand. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The seat-belt signs were turned on at 1230. We passed over the skyscrapers of Bangkok, or Krung Thep Maha Nakhon in Thai, around 1240 heading north, then making a sharp turn to the right for a final approach to Runway 19L. Gears were lowered at 1246, and we touched down at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK/VTBS) three minutes later. We taxied to Gate C5 and came to a stop at 1255, right on schedule. Since Councourse C is in the passport-controlled area, we deplaned to the jet-bridge, only to climb down the stairs to be bused to the domestic arrivals area. 
Inside Bangkok Air's seat pocket was their Fah Thai in-flight magazine as well as their in-flight shopping catalog. The flight attendants gave us notebooks, pens, and stickers. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Bangkok Air is led by President Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, whose father Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth owns 92% of the airline as well as heads the Bangkok Hospital Group, one of Southeast Asia's largest private heath-care conglomerates. Founded in 1968 as air-taxi operator Sahakol Air, it became Thailand's first private airline when it launched scheduled passenger services in 1986. Since then, amid the significant growth of LCCs like Thai AirAsia (FD/AIQ) and Nok Air (DD/NOK) and a stronger THAI, the airline has managed to produce profits, thanks to its quasi-monopoly at popular beach destination Samui (USM/VTSM), where the airline privately owns the airport, and their opportunity to code-share with most non-Star Alliance carriers at Southeast Asia's biggest holiday destination.
Thanks to the very friendly cabin crew for a comfortable flight! (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The crews were friendly and professional, and from my personal view, more polite than their counterparts at rival THAI, or Thai AirAsia and Nok Air, though the latter two are LCCs and may not be appropriate to compare with. The only negative I could think of was the counter agent unable to register our JAL Mileage Bank numbers. With a modest fleet of seven A320s, a dozen A319s, and eight ATR 72-500s, Bangkok Air is not a very big player, however, they have carved out a niche of their own in the increasingly competitive and crowded market, and certainly live up to their slogan Asia's Boutique Airline.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Skymark to fly Airbus A330s to Sapporo from August.

On June 19th, Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) announced that their third Airbus A330 will enter service on August 9th. Their first Airbus jetliners, which inaugurated service this past June 14th (Skymark Airlines inaugurates Airbus A330 service.) from Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), will also be assigned to a morning round-trip between Haneda and Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) when the third example is on-line.
Airbus A330-343E JA330B rolls down Runway 16R at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

During a shareholder's conference, President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo told investors "A330 flights are showing load factors above 70%," adding "it's beating expectations and we believe our target of 85% could be reached." Japan's third largest carrier has configured their brand-new A330s in a generous 271-seat Green Seat all-premium layout, however, it still represents a 53% capacity increase compared to their Boeing 737-800s, which seat 177 in their all-economy cabin.

In addition, Skymark hopes to launch freight service by the end of the year using belly cargo space of the new wide-body Airbuses. The airline expects the cargo business to bring a 1.5 billion JPY increase in revenue. Meanwhile, an A330 maintenance crew base is being set up in Fukuoka and is hoped to be operational by September to negate the need to send staff in from Haneda whenever an A330 faces technical issues.

Skymark plans a fleet of five A330-300s by the end of this year, with the remaining five to be delivered by August 2015 for a total of 10. Two A330s (JA330A and JA330B) have so far been delivered. They will receive their third (JA330D) in August, fourth (JA330E) in October, fifth (JA330F) in December, while 2015 will see their sixth (JA330G) in February, seventh (JA330K) in April, eighth (JA330L) in June, ninth (JA330M) in July, and tenth (JA330N) in August. Meanwhile, their 737-800 fleet will be reduced to 27 by October 2015; JA737M will be returned to its lessor in September, JA737N in March 2015, and JA737P in October 2015.

After New Chitose, A330 operations will be expanded to Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) in February or March next year. Skymark expects spare A330s in off-peak travel seasons, especially during the northern winter, and Mr. Nishikubo noted "It would be logical for us to use them on international charters to places like Bali (Indonesia) or Alaska (U.S.A.)." Indeed, their A330s boast fully-equipped galleys for long-haul flights.

Reference: Skymark Airlines, June 13th. (PDF; in Japanese)
Reference: Traicy, June 16th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Aviation Wire, June 19th. (in Japanese) 

*Post edited/updated on June 20th.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Peach reports first full-year profit for FY2013.

On June 19th, Peach Aviation (MM/APJ) reported they have recorded a full-year net profit of 1.05 billion JPY for fiscal year 2013, which ended on March 31st. The Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB)-based LCC had targeted a full-year profit for their third year and has effectively accomplished it, becoming the first Japanese LCC to achieve the milestone. FY2012 was a 1.29 billion JPY loss.
Airbus A320-214 JA805P basks in the sun at their Kansai hub. (Photo: Peach)

Revenue reached 30.6 billion JPY, operating revenue was 2.7 billion JPY, and current earnings showed 1.7 billion JPY. System-wide average load factor was 83.7% and fare-paying passengers numbered approximately 3 million. Their 13th Airbus A320 was delivered earlier this month, and plans are on track to launch their second hub at Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) on July 1st (Peach announces Naha – Fukuoka.). CEO Shinichi Inoue believes peak and off-peak load factors showing minimal fluctuation as one of the important contributing factors.

FY2014 is expected to suffer 3 billion JPY of lost revenue from the massive flight disruption (Peach outlines Summer 2014 mass cancellations.) due to the lack of pilots, however, Peach estimates network expansion will bring a 10% increase in revenue. One more A320 will be delivered this year in November for a total of 14, and three will be added each year in the following two years for a total of 20 by the end of 2016.

Reference: Aviation Wire, June 19th. (in Japanese)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

JAL Sky Next to serve Itami, Hakodate, and Sapporo next.

Japan Airlines (JL/JAL), which introduced their refurbished 'JAL Sky Next' domestic aircraft on May 28th (JAL's first Sky Next 777 enters service.) on the Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) – Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) route, will be expanding the service to Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO) and Hakodate (HKD/RJCH) in July, and to Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) in August.
Boeing 777-246 JA8985 Samurai Blue Jet supports Japan's national football (soccer) team, which is currently participating in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Boasting all-new leather seats, new carpets, Dreamliner-style LED mood lighting, and in-flight Wi-Fi (available from July), Boeing 777-289 JA007D became the first to receive the revamp. Seat pitch remains the same at 38 inches (96.5 centimeters) for Class J and 31 inches (78.7 centimeters) for economy, however, slim-style seats increased legroom by five centimeters in economy.

By mid-2016, JAL plans to have 77 aircraft with the refurbished interiors in service, comprising seven 777-300s, nine 777-200s, 20 767-300/300ERs, and 41 737-800s. Work on their 777-300s will begin in August, 767s from September, and 737-800s from October. JAL targets 34 aircraft to have completed the revamp by the end of fiscal year 2014.
Boeing 777-246 JA8981 stopped by Honolulu for refueling and crew immigrations. She is seen here leaving for her final flight to Goodyear, where she will be scrapped. (Photo: JAL)

Meanwhile, the first Triple-Seven to be retired from JAL, 777-246 JA8981 (JAL retires first Boeing 777.), was ferried via Honolulu (HNL/PHNL) to Goodyear (GYR/KGYR) in Arizona, U.S.A. on June 13th as flight JL8131. It will be dismantled for spare parts. Another five older 777-200s will be retired by March 2016, while others will receive the 'Sky Next' upgrade.

Reference: Aviation Wire, June 17th. (in Japanese)
Reference: Japan Airlines @ Facebook (in Japanese)

*Post edited/updated on June 20th.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Skymark Airlines inaugurates Airbus A330 service.

On June 14th, Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) inaugurated Airbus A330 operations with flight BC003, service from Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF). Flown by A330-343E JA330B, the flight departed Haneda at 0758 JST, 18 minutes behind schedule, and took off at 0817 with a load of 262 passengers, eight flight attendants, and two pilots. It touched down at Fukuoka at 0944 and came to a stop at the gate at 0954, 19 minutes behind their published arrival time.
Airbus A330-343E JA330B is seen being pushed back from the gate at Haneda for its inaugural revenue flight on Saturday, June 14th. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Japan's third largest carrier has configured their brand-new A330s in a 271-seat Green Seat all-premium layout (Skymark Airlines' first two Airbus A330s delivered.), boasting a generous 38-inch (96.5 centimeters) seat pitch at seven-abreast (2-3-2), similar to Japan Airlines' (JL/JAL) Class J domestic business class product. However, it still represents a 53% capacity increase compared to their Boeing 737-800s, which seat 177 in their all-economy cabin. So far, Skymark has not been charging a premium for A330-operated flights.

The skirt length of the controversial one-piece short-skirt uniforms (Miniskirt turbulence at Skymark Airlines?) has been extended by about 10 centimeters in response to critics. The 1960s-style uniform is being worn by flight attendants just on the widebody Airbus for the first six months on each route it is introduced on as part of a campaign to promote the new product.
A Skymark flight attendant wearing their fresh new mini-skirt uniform performing in-flight service. Skymark offers a buy-on-board program, however, their menu is simple and products are much more reasonably priced compared to LCCs. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Skymark's President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo, who was also present on the inaugural flight, told reporters he was "filled with deep emotions," when asked how he felt reaching the historic day after it was forced to delay four times, pushing the inauguration back by almost three months (Skymark delays Airbus A330 launch again; now June 14th.). Having had to become the first A330 operator in Japan, they had underestimated the amount of work and time it takes to go through the various regulatory hurdles and the country's relatively slow process of certification. Making an in-flight announcement himself, Mr. Nishikubo said "Please sit back, recline, and experience the comfort," welcoming passengers.
The spacious seven-abreast (2-3-2) layout on Skymark's Airbus A330. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

The airline currently has two A330-300s, both of which are on lease from Intrepid Aviation, and plans a total of 10 by September 2015. JA330A entered service on the same day with flight BC009. Their third example is expected in August and three more will arrive by the end of 2014, while the remaining four are to be delivered by September 2015. With the acquisition of their third example, all Haneda – Fukuoka flights will be operated by A330s, and Skymark plans to expand A330 operations to Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) in October and to Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) in February or March next year.

Along with the all-premium Airbus A380s they will start receiving later this year (Skymark's Airbus A380 to be delayed up to six months.), the all-premium A330s are in line with Skymark's strategy to meet the demand for affordable premium travel (Skymark posts loss but optimistic with strategy tweaks.) and their survival plan to create a niche of their own and avoid being caught in between the full-service carriers and the growing LCCs.

Source: Aviation Wire, June 14th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, June 15th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, June 16th. (in Japanese)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Skymark's Airbus A380 to be delayed up to six months.

On June 13th, Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY) announced that delivery of their first Airbus A380 would be delayed by 2.5 months to up to six months due to galley, seats, and other interior parts not meeting required specifications and needing a redesign. "We ordered interiors from two companies," the airline's Managing Director Masakazu Arimori told reporters, adding "The specifications didn’t match. We have ordered reworks."
Skymark's first Airbus A380-841 F-WWSL/JA380A. Fitted with four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, it is the 162nd 'whale-jet' to roll off the production line. (Photo: Airbus)

Japan's third largest carrier originally planned to take delivery of their first (Skymark's first Airbus A380 completes maiden flight.) behemoth around October or November to launch their first scheduled international route from Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) to New York/John F. Kennedy (JFK/KJFK) in December this year or January 2015. They plan to configure the aircraft in an all-premium 394-seat layout, including 114 '170-degree angled' (near-flat) business class seats with a pitch of 152 centimeters (60 inches) and 280 premium economy seats with a pitch of 97 centimeters (38 inches).

The delay would mean the inaugural flight could be pushed back to Summer 2015, however, it would also make time for Skymark, which tumbled to its first net loss in five years (Skymark delays Airbus A330 launch again; now June 14th.), to adjust its strategy. However, President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo reiterated that they will continue to pursue being "an independent stand-alone carrier," and added "There's no change to the contract. We still intend to take all six A380s."

Although a pioneer in breaking the ANA/JAL duopoly in domestic skies, Skymark's international ambitions may be life-risking. Logic-wise, they would be pursuing the under-served market for affordable premium travel, however, not only would it be the domestic-only airline's first scheduled international attempt, but they would also be entering a very distant market with the world's largest passenger aircraft in an unprecedented all-premium layout. Connections at Narita on Skymark are limited at best and non-existent at the other end. Will Skymark tweak its strategy and change its destination and/or find a partner?

According to the airline, details of the postponement and new in-service target dates will be announced in July.

Source: Reuters Japan, June 13th. (in Japanese)

*Post edited/updated on June 15th.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Star Flyer to start Yamaguchi-Ube in October.

Star Flyer (7G/SFJ), which is undergoing management change and restructuring (Star Flyer's President Shinichi Yonehara to step down.) after posting a whopping 3 billion JPY loss for fiscal year 2013, will reportedly launch Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) – Yamaguchi-Ube (UBJ/RJDC) from the Winter 2014/2015 schedule starting on October 26th.
Airbus A320-214 JA04MC City of Kitakyushu taxies at rainy Haneda. Delivered in 2007, it will be returned to the lessor this year, reducing the fleet to nine. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Since the Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR)-based airline's total number of prized Haneda slots will remain at 27 slot-pairs, two of 10 round-trips between Haneda and Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) and one of the dozen connecting the capital with Kitakyushu is expected to be suspended to provide room for the three new flight pairs. The other five slot-pairs are currently used for their Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) service.

However, Sadami Matsuishi, the new President to be sworn in on June 25th (New Star Flyer President is from ANA.), had repeatedly emphasized to Kitakyushu's business community that the airline's hometown would not see cuts, so if local criticism turns out to be strong, Fukuoka could see a third flight cut instead of Kitakyushu. Mr. Matsuishi is a veteran of All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), a wholly owned subsidiary of ANA Holdings, which controls roughly 18% of Star Flyer's shares. His most recent position has been Chief of Department for Risk Management at IBEX Airlines (FW/IBX).

Meanwhile, ANA plans to code-share with Star Flyer on all three new flights and instead reduce flying their own metal on three of their five daily round-trips. This effectively frees up three of ANA's slot-pairs at Haneda, which sparks speculation about where ANA plans to use these precious slots to. The code-share allows Star Flyer to have a stable income from the now de facto parent while for ANA it could transfer second-tier routes to a (slightly) lower-cost partner and free-up Haneda slots at the same time. Operating under a similar scheme are Star Flyer's three Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) – Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) round-trips (Star Flyer to add ANA's code on all flights.), launched on March 30th, which replaced three of ANA's.

Now in its eighth year of service, Star Flyer's heavy losses not only stem from high costs (Cost of Available Seat-Kilometer, or CASK, was 11.8 JPY for FY2011), a depreciated JPY (same as everyone else), and LCC competition, but also from critical strategy errors. Last spring, it dumped all of its five new slot-pairs awarded at Haneda on the Fukuoka route, a high-demand link but also one of the most highly-contested. Load factors went up, but prices went down and hurt the all-important yield.

Star Flyer initially touted (and still does) itself as an affordable high-quality domestic airline, boasting Airbus A320s with only 150 seats, 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. However, with heavy losses and ANA's increased involvement, it is becoming merely another pawn of ANA, joining the likes of AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do), IBEX Airlines, and Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ) (d.b.a. Solaseed Air).

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, June 13th. (in Japanese)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jetstar Japan launches Kansai hub.

Jetstar Japan (GK/JJP) launched their long-awaited Osaka/Kansai (KIX/RJBB) hub on June 12th with flight GK551, service to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF), which departed at 0637 JST. The Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA)-based LCC will base up to three Airbus A320s along with 80 pilots, cabin attendants, and maintenance crews at the airport which is home to rival Peach Aviation (MM/APJ).
Airbus A320-232 JA09JJ climbing out of Narita. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Originally planned for launch in October 2012, the Kansai base had been delayed five times due to the shortage of maintenance crews as well as heavy losses when the LCC finally submitted plans to the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) to start the hub from June 3rd (Jetstar Japan to launch Kansai hub from June.). However, simulating coordination with maintenance contractor JAL Engineering (JALEC), a subsidiary of Japan Airlines (JL/JAL), revealed more time necessary, and it was delayed for the sixth time to today (Jetstar Japan delays Kansai hub, cancels 101 flights.).

Jetstar Japan's network from Kansai hub:
Kansai – Fukuoka up to 2 round-trips with 32A/320.
Kansai – Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) up to 3 round-trips with 32A/320. 
Kansai – Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) up to 2 round-trips with 32A/320.
Kansai – Narita up to 6 round-trips with 32A/320.

Yet, Jetstar Japan becomes the first LCC in the country to reach the milestone of opening a second hub. Peach is expected to follow shortly with a second hub at Naha to be launched on July 19th (Peach announces Naha - Fukuoka.), while Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) still struggles to make their network work from Narita, and the new AirAsia Japan (Mk II) seems to be preparing a hub at Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG) (New AirAsia Japan to be based at Nagoya Chubu Centrair.) with launch expected in the first quarter of 2015.

Although initial plans boasted a fleet of 24 aircraft by the end of 2014, the Japanese affiliate of Australia's Jetstar Airways (JQ/JST) has been capping its fleet at 18 A320s, with CEO Miyuki Suzuki confirming "deliveries would be slowed down," and "spread through the next fiscal year." Now that the Kansai hub is up and running, Jetstar Japan will move on to launch international routes sometime during the Winter 2014/2015 schedule. Nothing has been disclosed, however, the planned destinations are "within a four-to-five-hour radius from Narita," according to Mrs. Suzuki.

Jetstar Japan is owned 33.3% by Qantas Airways (QF/QFA), 33.3% by JAL, 16.7% by Mitsubishi, and 16.7% by Century Tokyo Leasing.

Source: Aviation Wire, June 12th. (in Japanese)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

ANA takes 150th Boeing 787 delivery.

On June 5th, All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) took Boeing's 150th delivery of the Dreamliner. The 787-8, registered JA829A, is the 179th example to roll off the production line and is the Japanese carrier's 28th. The aircraft departed Paine Field (PAE/KPAE) at 1846 PDT on June 5th and landed at Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) at 2006 JST on June 6th.
Boeing 787-8 JA829A takes off from Paine Field on a pre-delivery test flight. (Photo: Boeing)

JA829A is also ANA's eighth Dreamliner configured for regional international routes, and becomes the first in that group to have nine-abreast (3-3-3) seating in economy class, adding 18 seats. The number of seats in business stays at 42, making the total 240.

Breakdown of ANA's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner fleet:
Long-haul international (9 aircraft):
158 seats (C46+Y112): JA805A, JA806A
169 seats (C46+P21+Y102): JA813A, JA814A, JA820A, JA822A, JA823A, JA827A, JA828A

Regional international (8 aircraft):
222 seats (C42+Y180): JA801A, JA802A, JA803A, JA804A, JA807A, JA808A, JA815A
240 seats (C42+Y198): JA829A 

Domestic (11 aircraft):
335 seats (P12+Y323): JA809A, JA810A, JA811A, JA812A, JA816A, JA817A, JA818A, JA819A, JA821A, JA824A, JA825A

To the nightmare of coach flyers, ANA had been reconfiguring its long-haul-configured 787s from eight-abreast (2-4-2) to nine-abreast (3-3-3) seating in economy to compensate for introducing 21 premium economy seats (25th & 26th Boeing 787s for ANA; first B787-9 due in summer.), so converting Dreamliners configured for regional Asian routes to nine-abreast has been expected. All 222-seat 787s will probably be reconfigured to 240 seats in due course. Meanwhile, their 335-seat domestic 787s have had nine-abreast seating in economy since delivery.

The next three 787-8 deliveries are to be configured for regional international routes, so this should accelerate the transfer of additional 767-300ERs currently serving international to domestic, thereby replacing older 767-300s (yes, non-ERs) plying domestic skies. Meanwhile, their first stretched Dreamliner, the 787-9, registered JA830A, is currently undergoing test flights in Seattle, while the second, JA833A, is under production. The first is planned for delivery later this summer, with three to be delivered by the end of this year.

ANA is the largest 787 customer having ordered 80, including the top-up commitment for a further 14 787-9s announced in March (ANA selects Boeing 777-9X and Airbus A321neo.). The orderbook consists of 36 787-8s and 44 787-9s.

Source: Boeing Airplanes @ Twitter (in English)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Spring Airlines Japan delays launch to August 1st.

On June 6th, Spring Airlines Japan (IJ/SJO) announced that they will postpone their launch to August 1st due to preparations taking more time than expected. Japan's newest LCC originally planned to commence services from Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) to Hiroshima (HIJ/RJOA), Saga (HSG/RJFS), and Takamatsu (TAK/RJOT) on June 27th (Spring Airlines Japan to launch services on June 27th.) using brand-new Boeing 737-800s.
Boeing 737-86N(WL) JA02GR made a stop at Honolulu on delivery to Japan in December 2013. (Photo: HNL RareBirds)

According to Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), a division of Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) which regulates and oversees civil aviation in the country, there were various procedures which had to be revised when proving flights took place in late April. Although Spring Airlines Japan had been making efforts to meet the planned launch date, it was decided that more time would be needed.

Additionally, one of two planned round-trips between Narita and Takamatsu will not be started until October 26th, the beginning of the Winter 2014/2015 timetable. Affected flights are IJ611/612, and the company has cited pilot training taking more time as the main reason, though they emphasized that they had enough numbers. Shortages of pilots have caused massive travel disruptions at competitors Peach Aviation (MM/APJ) (Peach outlines Summer 2014 mass cancellations.) and Vanilla Air (JW/VNL) (Vanilla Air cancels 154 flights in June due to pilot shortage.).

Flight schedule (August 1st – October 25th):
Narita – Hiroshima new 2 daily with 73H.
IJ621 NRT 0655 – 0835 HIJ 73H Daily
IJ623 NRT 1625 – 1805 HIJ 73H Daily
IJ622 HIJ 0920 – 1050 NRT 73H Daily
IJ624 HIJ 1850 – 2020 NRT 73H Daily

Narita - Saga new 2 daily with 73H.
IJ601 NRT 1055 – 1255 HSG 73H Daily
IJ603 NRT 1655 – 1855 HSG 73H Daily
IJ602 HSG 1340 – 1525 NRT 73H Daily
IJ604 HSG 1940 – 2125 NRT 73H Daily

Narita - Takamatsu new 2 daily to be reduced to 1 daily with 73H.
IJ611 NRT 0630 – 0755 TAK 73H Daily *Canceled through Oct/25.
IJ613 NRT 1150 – 1315 TAK 73H Daily
IJ612 TAK 0840 – 0955 NRT 73H Daily *Canceled through Oct/25.
IJ614 TAK 1410 – 1525 NRT 73H Daily

Due to the delay, a total of 592 flights are being canceled, affecting 5,009 seats sold on Spring Airlines Japan's website as well as another 5,000 sold through travel agencies. Passengers who have tickets for travel between June 27th and July 31st have the choice of re-booking to another flight on the same route for travel after August 1st, or a full refund including the processing fee.

Spring Airlines Japan is the Japanese affiliate of Shanghai/Pudong (PVG/ZSPD)-based Spring Airlines (9C/CQH), which controls 33%, the maximum possible figure under Japan's foreign ownership rules. Last year, Hiroshi Ukai, former Safety Inspector General at JCAB, was selected as Representative Director to head Spring Airlines Japan in part to speed up the application process, taking advantage of his regulatory expertise to cover for the lack of rapport with the regulator All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) and Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) enjoy.

Source: Spring Airlines Japan, June 6th. (PDF; in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, June 6th. (in Japanese)