Today in Aviation, Japan Air Lines (JL) began its first international scheduled air service in 1954. The inaugural flight, from Tokyo to San Francisco, was operated by a Douglas DC-6B “City of Tokyo” and carried 18 passengers.
Japan Air Lines had already commenced operations on October 25, 1951, starting the first civil aviation service in Japan since World War II. Domestic flights began between Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Osaka.
The airline applied to the country’s Ministry of Transport to operate international flights on April 18, 1952. The Japanese government saw the need to build a dependable aviation system to assist the country’s growth after the war, and approval was granted.
Its first overseas flight took place on December 21, 1952. A special charter was flown from Tokyo to Manila to return the body of the Philippine Ambassador to Japan following his death.
However, JL would face fierce competition on its transpacific services from the well-established Pan Am (PA) and Northwest Orient (NW). In preparation for the new service, JL rebranded its corporate image, focusing on its Flight Attendants, or Stewardesses as they were then referred to. Each would be dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos and trained by a United Airlines (UA) “stewardess instructor.”
The twice-weekly roundtrip, which operated via Wake Island and Honolulu, was initially flown by American flight crews. The flight took around 31 hours to complete.
The new service marked the start of ambitious growth plans by JL. It ordered three further DC-6Bs and would go on to operate ten of the type, forming the backbone of the international fleet. JL later added DC-7Cs, which allowed the airline to inaugurate non-stop flights between Tokyo, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
Japan Air Lines also introduced charter services to Sao Paulo, New Orleans, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro.
Featured image: JL’s DC-6s were maintained by United’s maintenance team at SFO. (Photo: Bill Larkins, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)