Cut-rate carrier Peach starts flights

Kyodo

Low-cost carrier Peach Aviation Ltd. started operations Thursday, a move sure to intensify competition among air and ground transportation companies.

Describing its flights as “flying trains,” the budget airline is aiming to attract passengers by offering low-priced tickets while cutting costs by providing minimal service and charging customers for extras such as meals and blankets.

The first flight took off from Peach’s home base, Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture, in the morning bound for New Chitose Airport near Sapporo. The carrier will operate three round-trip flights on that route and four round-trip flights a day connecting Kansai and Fukuoka.

The airline, partly owned by All Nippon Airways Co., plans to begin flights between Kansai and Nagasaki as well as Kagoshima by April, and flights between Kansai and Incheon International Airport near Seoul in May.

Prices for one-way tickets on the Kansai-Sapporo route range from ¥4,780 to ¥14,780, far cheaper than the ¥11,800 to ¥41,300 offered by major airlines ANA and Japan Airlines Co.

On the Kansai-Fukuoka route, one-way tickets cost ¥3,780 to ¥11,780, also cheaper than the roughly ¥10,000 to ¥21,900 charged by ANA and JAL.

The price is also competitive compared with bullet trains, which cost around ¥14,000 between Shin-Osaka Station and Hakata Station in Fukuoka, as well as expressway buses with fares of about ¥4,000 on similar routes.

To cope with the new competition, Skymark Airlines Inc. has said it will offer one-way tickets for as low as ¥3,800 for flights that it will launch March 25 between Kansai and Sapporo as well as Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

Jetstar Japan Co., set up by JAL, the Qantas Group of Australia and trading house Mitsubishi Corp., will start services in July, while AirAsia Japan Co., another budget airline owned partly by ANA, plans to commence flights in Japan in August.

The newcomers will likely prompt major airlines to cut fares, observers say.

“The move will certainly benefit consumers” by prompting existing airlines such as JAL and ANA to offer lower fares, said Yoshihisa Akai, representative director of Japan Aviation Management Research.

Meanwhile, for low-cost carriers to become as popular in Japan as in the United States and Europe, in which their combined market share accounts for around 30 percent, the government and smaller airports will need to reduce costs for airlines, such as fuel taxes and airport fees that are set higher than overseas, Akai said.