Peach stepping up efforts to hire pilots

by Kohei Chida

Kyodo

Budget carrier Peach Aviation is stepping up efforts to win the competition for pilots as scores of new carriers enter the aviation market.

Peach, one of the low-cost carriers struggling in the increasingly competitive industry, says getting hold of pilots is one of the most vital issues for its future growth as it aims to boost the number of flights.

“Competition to recruit students aiming to be a pilot has become severer and we are actively visiting universities and holding orientations for students,” said Kenji Kakujo, a 62-year-old executive officer who leads the company’s flight operations department and is a pilot himself.

The carrier, based at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, now has a total of some 100 pilots and co-pilots. Most came from major airlines, including Japan Airlines, which failed in 2010 before undergoing rehabilitation.

Peach, partly owned by ANA Holdings Inc., is recruiting graduates who have received basic pilot training at university as “co-pilot candidates” as it seeks to hire 20 to 30 pilots a year, including experienced fliers from other airlines.

The first pilot trained by Peach started flying as recently as May 2013.

Ryoji Fujii, 32, is now in the final phase of the company’s pilot training program and is learning to fly in service a few times a week under the direction of a captain.

“My dreams will come true soon and I am bracing myself for the moment,” said Fujii, who became Peach’s first pilot trainee in January 2013.

Fujii, from Yokohama, joined an information technology firm after finishing university.

He left the company because he was unable to give up on his dream of becoming a pilot and entered Tokai University’s pilot training course.

Fujii is set to make his official debut as a co-pilot as early as this month, according to Peach.

Competition to obtain pilots has become tougher with a number of LLCs such as Jetstar Japan and Vanilla Air (formerly known as AirAsia Japan) launching services since Peach began operations in 2012.

Experts on the industry say airlines around the world will need several tens of thousands of new pilots with demand for air travel likely to continue to surge.

Peach currently possesses 11 Airbus A320 jetliners operating on 16 routes in Japan and abroad. It is planning to increase its fleet to 17 by the end of 2015.

Peach, like most other budget carriers, is struggling due to intense price competition, and aiming to turn a profit at an early stage by increasing the number of popular flights and expanding its services.

“As an LCC established by Japanese nationals, we will go for the top spot in Asia,” Kakujo of Peach said.

AirAsia picks partners

BLOOMBERG

AirAsia Bhd., the region’s biggest budget carrier, has decided on partners and top executives for a new discount airline in Japan after ending its tie-up with ANA Holdings Inc. last year.

The co-investors include listed companies, Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian low-cost airline’s group chief executive officer, said Friday, without naming them.

Yoshinori Odagiri, formerly chief executive of AirAsia’s Japanese tie-up with ANA, will head the new carrier with Osamu Hata, previously a chief financial officer at Japan’s Dell unit, taking the top finance role, he said.

“We’ve gone with people we think are like-minded and bring strategic value,” Fernandes said during a visit to Japan to meet them. “The timing is excellent for Japan with the new economic thinking.”

Sepang, Malaysia-based AirAsia ended its venture with ANA last year due to a disagreement over strategy, with the Tokyo-based carrier re-launching the carrier as Vanilla Air.

AirAsia will hold 33 percent of voting rights in the new carrier with flights probably starting next year, said Fernandes. An announcement will be made in April, he said.

Japan’s budget airline market has exploded in recent years, with three carriers starting flights in 2012, and Spring Airlines Japan Co. set to start operations in May. The economy has expanded since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became prime minister in 2012, with the stock market jumping as the Bank of Japan pumps money into the monetary system.

AirAsia is considering airports including Nagoya and Kansai as possible bases for the new carrier and won’t use Narita International Airport where its previous venture was based, Fernandes said.