Air Transport World

A tale of many tails: the merger of Japan Airlines and Japan Air System makes perfect business sense, but commonality of equipment is a different matter.

At a time when single-type aircraft fleets are all the rage in the successful low-cost segment, the ongoing merger of Japan Airlines and Japan Air System into Japan Airlines Systems Corp. perhaps best can be understood as a tale of too many tails. While it is true that the combination will create the world's third-largest airline group by revenue, it also will bring together 14 different aircraft types including examples from all but two current Western-built wide-body families.

CEO Isao Kaneko recognizes that melding such disparate operations will present a significant challenge, but he views this as a small price to pay when measured against the gains to be had from combining JAL's strong trunk and international route network with JAS's presence at Japan's regional airports and its developing network into China.

Furthermore, the merger is occurring against a backdrop of radical--for Japan--restructuring within the aviation environment. Domestic liberalization has been a fact in law for several years, but the historical lack of tarmac meant airlines were not freed from the legacy of operating very large aircraft with limited frequency. Now that is changing. Narita opened a second runway last April and Haneda is set to open a fourth runway before the end of the decade.

Kaneko sees in these twin developments an opportunity to remold the company to better fit the new shape of commercial aviation: Lower fares and higher frequency. "Japanese passengers, like elsewhere in the world, want frequency," he declares. This desire has helped to influence JAL to make a decision to replace its famous 586-seat 747SRs that fly on four of the world's busiest air routes with 777-300s configured for 470 passengers. …

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