Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Star Flyer to add Yamaguchi-Ube; but reduce Fukuoka.

On July 23rd, Star Flyer (7G/SFJ) officially announced that their new Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) – Yamaguchi-Ube (UBJ/RJDC) service would be inaugurated on October 26th, the beginning of the Winter 2014/2015 timetable, as previously rumored (Star Flyer to start Yamaguchi-Ube in October.). 150-seat Airbus A320s will operate the route.
Airbus A320-214 JA08MC Heart of Kitakyushu arrives at the airline's home base. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

The Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR)-based airline will cut three of its 10 current Haneda – Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) round-trips to free up three slot-pairs at heavily-regulated Haneda, and will use all three for the new link to Yamaguchi-Ube. Along with the launch, Star Flyer will move all but its flights to Kitakyushu to Haneda's Terminal 2 (used by ANA Group). Last spring, it erred in dumping all of its five newly-awarded Haneda slot-pairs into the Fukuoka market, a high-demand link but also one of the most highly-contested, bringing passenger numbers up but lowering prices and hurting the all-important yield.

Meanwhile, All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA), subsidiary of ANA Holdings, which also owns 18% (and de facto parent) of Star Flyer, will axe two of its five Haneda – Yamaguchi-Ube round-trips and instead code-share on all three of Star Flyer's new flights. ANA is rumored to allocate at least one of the freed-up slot-pairs to launch Haneda –Nagoya/Chubu Centrair (NGO/RJGG), a short hop aimed at feeding its expanded Haneda international network (ANA's Summer 2014 international expansion.) from Nagoya.

Between March 2012 and January 2013, ANA deployed Boeing 787s on the Haneda – Yamaguchi-Ube route in a bid to compete against JAL's four daily round-trips operated by 737-800s and lure travelers. However, now all flights are operated by 270-seat 767-300s and load factors for FY2013 showed 53.2%, well below the company average of 61.6%. ANA had wanted to reduce flying the route without receiving bad publicity, and Star Flyer's restructuring was seen as a perfect vehicle.

Star Flyer has sadly joined the likes of AIRDO (HD/ADO) (d.b.a. Air Do) and Skynet Asia Airways (6J/SNJ) (d.b.a. Solaseed Air) in becoming merely a lower-cost feeder carrier for ANA. Why will ANA not simply take over these carriers? The biggest probable reason behind it is that if they are merged into ANA, they would likely be forced to relinquish some of the precious Haneda slots.

Reference: Star Flyer, July 23rd. (PDF; in Japanese)
Reference: Star Flyer, July 23rd. (PDF; in Japanese)
Reference: Aviation Wire, July 23rd. (in Japanese)

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