Low-cost, long-haul carrier, AirAsia X is to add another destination to its network in Japan with the launch of a new four times weekly link between Kuala Lumpur and Sapporo from this autumn. However, the airline’s overall capacity into the Japanese market will actually reduce over the remaining months of the year as its existing route to Tokyo Narita is suspended from August 1, 2015 as it focuses its efforts solely on serving Haneda Airport in Japan’s capital city.
The carrier made its debut in Japan in December 2010 when it inaugurated flights between its Kuala Lumpur International Airport hub in Malaysia and Tokyo Haneda. This route was complemented by flights to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport from November 2011 and then to Chūbu Centrair International Airport, serving Nagoya in central Japan, between March 2014 and March 2015. The Narita link was added in November 2014, but despite a proposed frequency increase from this year will close at the end of the month.
The new link to New Chitose Airport, located to the southeast of Chitose and Tomakomai, and the largest facility on Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island will be introduced from October 1, 2015 and is targeted to attract the mobile inbound Japanese tourist market and support their interest in exploring the wider Asian market via the airline’s own network and its short-haul AirAsia Group partners.
“We are thrilled to expand our network to Japan with direct flights to Sapporo, Hokkaido,” said Benyamin Ismail, acting chief executive officer, AirAsia X. “We have carried over 1.5 million passengers between Japan and Malaysia. This direct route will entice them to visit Malaysia and subsequently connect to various destinations in ASEAN and beyond.”
Sapporo has a population of 1.9 million and is a popular year-round destination, with particularly strong winter demand when the famous Sapporo Snow Festival takes place and visitors travel to take advantage of skiing opportunities in Hokkaido’s ski resorts.
This will be the first non-stop link between Sapporo and Malaysia, an estimated market of around 17,000 bi-directional O&D passengers in the past two calendar years, according to Sabre Airport Data Intelligence demand statistics. The Sapporo – Kuala Lumpur city pair dominates this demand with an average of 11,500 annual passengers flying between the destinations over the past ten years with the main passenger flows being with Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways International via one or two-stop itineraries.
AirAsia X has good experience of the Sapporo market through its former AirAsia Japan low-cost venture, while its sister carrier Thai AirAsia X is currently offering flights to the city from its Bangkok base, albeit these will stop from August 1, 2015 due to a downgrade of Thailand's aviation safety rating. Ahead of the closure Thai AirAsia X has secured temporary permission from the Japanese authorities to recently fly the daily service, which launched in May 2015 with support from AirAsia X assets.
Thailand's civil aviation body is under scrutiny after the United Nation's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) earlier this year downgraded its safety rating for failing to properly oversee airlines under its jurisdiction.
Our analysis of OAG Schedules Analyser data highlights the variation in AirAsia X’s capacity offering into Japan over the last couple of years. The statistics show a peak in capacity in March this year ahead of the closure of the Nagoya service, with capacity this month down 8.9 per cent versus July last year.