Excitement is building as the clock ticks down to the start of All Nippon Airways’ (ANA) nonstop flights between Perth and Tokyo Narita.
The inaugural service, due land in Perth a little after 2015 local time on Sunday September 1, will connect Western Australia with Japan for the first time since 2011, when Qantas ended its three-times-weekly flights with Boeing 767-300ERs.
It also represents ANA’s expansion in the Australian market after it returned to this part of the world in December 2015 with nonstop Sydney-Tokyo Haneda flights, following an absence of more than a decade.
All Nippon Airways managing director for the Australia/Oceania region Ryo Sadayuki says there has been a strong response to the flight since it was launched in December 2018.
“Everyone is so excited and welcoming. We are very happy to be opening up the new direct service,” Sadayuki tells Australian Aviation in an interview on Thursday.
“The traffic between Japan and Australia has been growing steadily in the last four to five years, particularly from Australia.
“We feel the same trend in Western Australia.”
ANA will serve Perth with Boeing 787-8s configured with 184 seats, comprising 32 in business with direct aisle access for every passenger, 14 in premium economy laid out in two rows of eight and 138 in economy at nine abreast.
The flights have been scheduled as a daytime service from Tokyo Narita. The return flight departs Perth at night and lands in the morning, making it well timed for domestic connections beyond Tokyo.
Sadayuki said he expected demand on the Perth route to be similar to that of ANA’s Sydney service – which carries a mix of Australians travelling to Japan and Japanese visiting Australia – as well as attract passengers who previously may have taken a one-stop option.
“If they take connecting flight through Singapore or Hong Kong for example, it will take 14 to 15 hours,” Sadayuki said.
“Our direct flight will take about 10 hours so that is a significant reduction of travel time.”
ANA has an interline agreement with Virgin Australia for onward connections beyond Perth and Sydney.
The primary target for Australian-outbound passengers on ANA’s Perth service was expected to be those heading to Tokyo or other parts of Japan.
However, Japan’s geographic location also made it a potential one-stop option for travellers from Perth to North America, with ANA offering eight nonstop flights from Tokyo Narita to the United States, as well as to Mexico City.
Perth Airport chief executive officer Kevin Brown said at the time ANA launched the route in December 2018 Japan was Perth’s ninth largest international visitor market.
Further, there were about 140,000 passengers travelling between Perth and Japan a year, despite not having a nonstop service.
“We expect these numbers to grow as we know that the introduction of direct flights creates a stimulus of approximately 40 per cent in the market, just because it’s easier for people to jump on those routes,” Brown said in a statement.
Australia-Japan market growing
There are three other carriers in addition to ANA with nonstop flights between Australia and Japan.
The largest is Qantas, which has four routes – Brisbane-Tokyo Narita, Melbourne-Tokyo Narita, Sydney-Osaka Kansai and Sydney-Tokyo Haneda. Meanwhile, its low-cost carrier (LCC) unit flies Gold Coast-Tokyo Narita, as well as flights from Cairns to Osaka Kansai and Tokyo Narita.
Japan Airlines serves Melbourne and Sydney from Tokyo Narita. Finally there is ANA’s existing Sydney-Tokyo Haneda flight and soon-to-launch Perth service.
Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) showed 1.4 million passengers travelled between Australia and Japan in calendar 2018, up 8.4 per cent from 1.36 million in the prior year.
Further, ANA, Japan Airlines, Jetstar and Qantas offered 1.78 million nonstop Australia-Japan seats in 2018, with an average load factor of 83.5 per cent. This was up from 1.69 million seats and average load factors of 80.9 per cent in calendar 2017.
In addition to ANA’s daily Perth service, there has also been new capacity from Qantas, which boosted its Sydney-Osaka Kansai offering to four times weekly in December 2018 and is starting a seasonal Sydney-Sapporo nonstop flight starting in December 2019.
The growth is encouraging and brings the market closer to the heady levels reached in the 1990s, when there were more than 2.5 million seats a year between Australia and Japan.
However, the market has changed significantly since those times.
During the 1990s, the bulk of the traffic was inbound Japanese visitors travelling to Australia. Now, national tourism figures suggest traffic flows are more balanced.
Japan National Tourism Organisation statistics indicated 552,440 Australians visited Japan in calendar 2018, representing an 11.5 per cent improvement from the prior year and a 10-fold increase from about 56,000 in 1990.
A weaker Japanese yen and a tourism push from the Japanese government has led to total visitor numbers to Japan increasing from about 10 million in 2013 to more than 30 million in 2018.
Meanwhile, Tourism Australia statistics showed there were 469,000 Japanese visitors to Australia in 2018, up 7.9 per cent from the prior year.
Sadayuki said he was hopeful the number of Japanese visitors to Australia would return levels seen during the peak of the Australia-Japan tourism boom in 1990s.
“For airlines, the travel trade and all the tourism industry, the challenge for all of us is to return Japanese outbound tourists to Australia back to 900,000 a year,” Sadayuki said.
“In order to grow more, I don’t know who is going to fly in the future, but more capacity will mean more passengers.”
And while the likes of Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido were among the most popular destinations for Australians holidaying in Japan, tourism bodies have encouraged visitors to venture beyond the major cities.
Asked to recommend somewhere off the beaten track, Sadayuki suggested Kyushu, located at the western end of the country and the third largest of Japan’s five islands.
“The area is quite amazing, with great nature and great history,” Sadayuki said. “They have everything.”
Fukuoka is the largest city on Kyushu.
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