ANA is adding a second daily flight between Tokyo-Narita and Los Angeles at the October 2017 IATA schedule shift. The new service will operate one hour earlier than the existing flight in both directions, raising some questions about fleet planning and options the carrier might want to make. Like why isn’t ANA using a larger plane such as the A380 on this route?
Such similarly timed flights are relatively rare. Multiple frequencies are more often spaced out to account for different travel schedules by passengers. In this case ANA already has departures from Los Angeles near noon and midnight (to Haneda), suggesting a 6p departure might be more appealing than nearly matching the existing midday flight to Narita. That service would arrive in the late evening, reducing onward connection opportunities significantly. Indeed, the company advertises the connecting opportunities in its marketing message, “The additional flight will arrive at Narita earlier, so you can enjoy greatly improved connections to many Asian Destinations.” And flying too much earlier doesn’t offer much on the Narita arrival side while making the departure from Tokyo harder to justify.
I also considered that perhaps this additional flight would replace the service from JV partner United Airlines. It does not. The two carriers will now have three departures within an hour, sharing capacity into Tokyo and beyond.
And so I cannot help but wonder: Is this a cry for a larger plane such as the A380 or 747-8i?
Operating economics of the larger depend on a route network funneling large volumes of connecting passengers through a hub. ANA has the hub structure and a need to push lots of connections from Los Angeles through to other destinations in Asia. But it doesn’t have the super-sized aircraft to do it with. Those planes are coming, of course, with the three former SkyMark A380s set to join the fleet in a sea turtle livery in 2018. These aircraft are tasked with Hawaii service, however, not flights to the mainland.
One of the challenges with the Tokyo – Los Angeles route is aircraft utilization. With flight and ground time the round trip takes just over 24 hours meaning it cannot be run daily with a single airplane. The Hawaii flights are sufficiently shorter that they can be done on a single turn. In fact, it would be possible to nest HNL and LAX service together and have two aircraft fly NRT-LAX-NRT-HNL-NRT in a two day cycle based on the current published schedules. That growth would not require as significant a fleet investment on the part of the carrier. That said, the different market profiles could make the cabin configuration more challenging; premium demand to Hawaii is much lower than to Los Angeles.
— @FlyANA_official (@FlyANA_official) March 6, 2017
I’ve been skeptical of the demand in the Very Large Aircraft (“VLA”) segment in the past and I mostly remain so. Narita was highlighted early on by Airbus as a leading contender for A380 service because of its limited slot availability. Slots are no longer the problem as Haneda opens to long-haul traffic but ANA still sees an increase in demand for connecting flow that very well could finally justify the service. And it has the type entering its fleet. Maybe just a tiny tweak or two on the schedules and the order books and Airbus could find another happy and willing customer for its super jumbo type. Maybe even enough to help justify the A380plus hyped at the Paris Air Show??
Also worth noting that ANA is joining the Air New Zealand service to Auckland in flying long-haul operations that are effectively “wing tip” flights. Air New Zealand splits its services, with one continuing to London and the other returning straight to New Zealand so the circumstances are slightly different there.
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