Sunday, February 1, 2015

Skymark Airbus A330 operates last revenue flight.

On January 31st, Skymark Airlines [BC/SKY] ended Airbus A330 operations, only three days after filing for bankruptcy protection (Skymark to file for bankruptcy.) and announcing its decision to revert to an all-Boeing 737 fleet (Skymark to cut 15% of flights, ground all Airbus A330s.). The last flight out of Tokyo/Haneda [HND/RJTT] was BC727, service to Sapporo/New Chitose [CTS/RJCC] operated by Airbus A330-343E JA330D, which departed at 1904 JST and landed at 2037. The final flight became that aircraft's return leg BC730, which departed Hokkaido at 2121, and arrived back in Haneda at 2236.

Airbus A330-343E JA330A taxies after arriving into Haneda. Six have been delivered, of which one was only awaiting its ferry flight to Japan. Four remaining on order are now unlikely to be delivered. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Japan's third largest carrier only took delivery of their first two A330s less than a year ago on February 28th, 2014 (Skymark Airlines' first two Airbus A330s delivered.). Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 772B-60 engines, the Airbus wide-bodied twin-jets boasted a generous seven-abreast (2-3-2) 271-seat layout, offering Green Seats with a 96.5-centimeter (38 inches) pitch, a 17.8-centimeter (7 inches) increase over seats on their 177-seat 737s.

Then President and CEO Shinichi Nishikubo had actively participated in the seat design, which was aimed at "offering better seats at an affordable price." Created by U.S.-based Zodiac Aerospace, the seats also had power sockets in every seat to lure business travelers. A controversial mini-skirt campaign uniform (Miniskirt turbulence at Skymark Airlines?) was introduced for flight attendants on the A330 to promote the brand-new equipment.

However, being the first A330 operator in Japan, Skymark's inexperience in having new aircraft certified as well as training crews (Skymark starts Airbus A330 training flights.) delayed service entry four times and pushed inauguration back by almost three months (Skymark delays Airbus A330 launch again; now June 14th.). It finally inaugurated service on June 14th on the highly-contested Haneda – Fukuoka [FUK/RJFF] route (Skymark Airlines inaugurates Airbus A330 service.).

Airbus A330-343E JA330D takes off from Haneda as BC727 on Skymark's last A330 flight out of Tokyo, with Tokyo SkyTree and skyscrapers in the background. (Photo: Aviation Wire)

Operations were expanded to New Chitose from August 1st (Skymark moves up Sapporo Airbus A330 ops to August 1st.) and Okinawa/Naha [OKA/ROAH] was planned from March 29th (Skymark takes ANA & JAL dual tie-up, axes Sendai – Sapporo.). Its product was enhanced further when free Wi-Fi was introduced aboard A330s on August 7th (Skymark to offer free Wi-Fi on Airbus A330.). Skymark became the first and to date only airline to have offered free Wi-Fi on domestic routes in Japan.

However, as it dumped capacity on trunk routes, Skymark often had to slash price of the A330s' premium seats to below that of rivals' economy fares; the more they flew the A330, the more they hemorrhaged. During the press conference when Skymark announced its filing for bankruptcy protection, Representative Chairman Takashi Ide said "Our first step is to eliminate things that are too costly; we won't fly A330s anymore. If we can negotiate a much lower leasing fee and can come up with a surely profitable strategy, we may consider it again." Pilots certified for the A330 will be retrained for the 737.

Mr. Ide added that talks are already underway with lessors Intrepid Aviation and CIT Aerospace and some third parties to sub-lease the aircraft out. Cancelling the lease outright would lead to penalties and Skymark would want to avoid that, however, their A330s' low-density premium layout without any in-flight entertainment may make it hard to find a new operator, unless a reconfiguration, which would also be costly, is implemented.

Source: Traicy, January 30th. (in Japanese)
Source: Aviation Wire, January 31st. (in Japanese)

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