MIAMI — Japan Airlines (JAL) announced daily nonstop service between Los Angeles and Osaka’s Kansai International Airport today, with service expected to commence on March 20, 2015. The route will be operated using JAL’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners seating 186 passengers in a two-class configuration ( 42J / 144Y). Flight schedules for the new route are as follow:
JL 060 ~~ KIX – LAX ~~ D: 1520 A: 0920 ~~ Daily
JL 069 ~~ LAX – KIX ~~ D: 1120 A: 1550 ~~ Daily
Osaka Kansai also has nonstop service to Honolulu (from Delta, Hawaiian, and Japan Air Lines), San Francisco (from United), and New York JFK (from China Airlines). However, China Airlines’ flights will end on October 1, 2014, continuing the pattern of Kansai struggling to support long haul service to the United States. In the past decade alone, the Osaka market has lost or failed to sustain nonstop service to Chicago O’Hare, Detroit, Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Minneapolis St. Paul, Seattle, and now New York JFK.
The Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area has the world’s seventh largest economy by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a population of 18.5 million people, so it should be able to sustain a much larger long haul footprint. However, it suffers from the fact that its traffic is split between two airports, with domestic travel concentrated at landlocked but convenient Osaka International Airport (Itami), and international travel given to Kansai. This split has limited international route development, because it prevented the development of Kansai as a true hub. Given that at its peak, Kansai was able to handle close to 25 million passengers annually, it could more than likely handle the combined 30 million passengers of its present traffic and Itami. But Osaka residents are loathe to sacrifice the convenience of Itami, and residents in surrounding neighborhoods worry about the economic impact of its closure.
Of course Kansai’s decline is not solely due to competition with Itami (and the much smaller Kobe International Airport), but also due to the general stagnation of Japan’s economy, especially prior to a recent resurgence under prime minister Shinzo Abe. Moreover, landing, parking, and usage fees at Kansai are amongst the highest in the world, owing to its construction on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. The combination of these factors meant that traffic at Kansai collapsed from 20.5 million passengers in 2000 to just 13.3 million in 2009 and 2011 (the latter due to the Fukushima disaster). But the last couple of years have seen a resurgence in Kansai’s fortunes, driven primarily by the growth of low cost carriers (LCCs) such as Peach Aviation, who have helped traffic rebound to 17.8 million passengers per year.
Specifically considering the Los Angeles flight, it has a strong chance of success. Los Angeles – Osaka is a large origin and destination (O&D) market, with more than 95 passengers traveling between the two cities per day in each direction (PDEW). Back in 2003, when the route still had nonstop service, O&D traffic was roughly 186 passengers per day. When you add in a few minor connections at Kansai, connectivity in Los Angeles with JAL’s joint venture partner American Airlines, and the strong economics of the Boeing 787-8, there is no reason why this route shouldn’t stick.