• Kyodo

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Japan’s largest airline is enlisting the help of the Star Wars film franchise to promote itself in the United States, one of its most heavily served markets.

All Nippon Airways Co., the flagship of ANA Holdings Inc., is introducing three Boeing planes — the 787, 777 and 767 — with Star Wars liveries in the coming weeks to help hype the December release of “The Force Awakens,” the latest installment in the space fantasy saga.

Two of the Star Wars planes will be used frequently on ANA’s trans-Pacific flights, according to Hideki Kunugi, the New York-based ANA senior vice president and general manager for the Americas.

“ANA’s name recognition has been gradually rising but here in the United States, we are not so well recognized as an airline,” he said in a recent interview.

Kunugi said Star Wars has broad appeal across generations because of its history, which spans nearly 40 years. It “inspires whether one is old or young or man or woman,” he said.

“We are hoping a tie-up with Star Wars will play a major role in letting people in North America know about us,” he said.

Having started as a domestic carrier, ANA was a latecomer in launching cross-border services to compete with its main rival, Japan Airlines Co. ANA’s first scheduled international flight was in 1986, linking Tokyo and Guam.

The expansion of cross-border flights has become a pillar of ANA’s growth strategy with efforts focused on increasing trans-Pacific services, a major source of revenue.

ANA currently serves 10 North American cities with its own planes from Narita airport and Haneda airport in Tokyo. Destinations added in recent years include Seattle in July 2012, San Jose in January 2013, Vancouver in Canada in March 2014 and Houston in June this year.

These cities — which include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Honolulu — are served daily with more than 200 one-way flights per week, Kunugi said.

Trans-Pacific business has been strong, with 89 percent of the seats filled in August, preliminary data show. Occupancy climbed even higher to 94 percent for the Los Angeles flights, served from both Narita and Haneda, and at 93 percent for San Francisco, which it serves from Narita, according to ANA.

“Japanese customers are a priority for us and that hasn’t been changed,” Kunugi said.

But as its network expands, the manager said, “We would like to tap customers from China and Southeast Asia who fly to North America via Narita as well as American customers.”

The Star Wars campaign will be inaugurated with a Boeing 787-9 that has the droid character R2-D2 painted on the fuselage. It is scheduled to fly from Haneda to Vancouver on Oct. 18 and will be used for some of the Narita-San Jose and Narita-Seattle flights.

Inside, paper cups and head rests will have designs similar to the Star Wars livery. The six previously released Star Wars films will also be shown on most flights in ANA’s entire international network, Kunugi said.

A larger Boeing 777-300ER featuring a design based on BB-8, a droid set to appear in the new film, is expected to start flying around March on routes from Narita to cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

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