Japan Airlines said Tuesday it will enter into a code-sharing deal with Hawaiian Airlines and form a joint venture in the coming months to boost access to one of the most popular overseas destinations for Japanese travelers.
“This year marks the 63rd year since we opened the Hawaii route and our partnership will mark a new start,” Yoshiharu Ueki, representative director and president of JAL, told a news conference in Tokyo.
The agreement is the latest in the string of partnerships JAL has announced since investment and route-expansion restrictions linked to its 2010 government bailout expired in March. Since then, it has announced code-sharing agreements with Vietnamese budget carrier Vietjet Air and India’s Vistara, which is part of the Tata group. It also began nonstop flights from Tokyo to Melbourne, Australia, and this month added services between Narita Airport and Kona, Hawaii.
The two airlines said the new partnership with Hawaiian Airlines will officially begin on March 25.
Hawaiian Airlines, the U.S. state’s leading carrier, had been in alliance with JAL’s rival and Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways, since 2012. A spokesman for ANA said that their code-sharing deal will be terminated next March, around when the partnership between Hawaiian and JAL takes effect.
“Our Japanese business is the crown jewel of our international portfolio,” said Mark Dunkerley, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines. He said the two companies were working to form a joint venture in the coming months.
“JAL and Hawaiian will be seeking an even deeper partnership in the coming months by applying for approval from our respective governments to operate under an antitrust immunized joint venture agreement,” he said. Both Ueki and Dunkerley said there has been no talk of a possible capital tie-up at this point.
Hawaii remains a popular destination among Japanese travelers, seeing 1.48 million visitors in 2015, or roughly 9 percent of all Japanese traveling abroad. While JAL lags behind ANA in terms of passenger numbers, its Hawaii flights are one of the few where JAL takes the lead — JAL’s market share in the route was around 30 percent last year, compared with around 15 percent for ANA.
JAL serves Honolulu from Narita, Kansai and Chubu airports. Hawaiian flies from Honolulu and Kona to Narita and Haneda airports, as well as from Honolulu to Kansai and New Chitose airports. The two airlines plan to code-share both on international flights between Japan and Hawaii and flights in Japan and in Hawaii. The partnership will involve linking mileage programs and opening airport lounges in Japan and Hawaii for passengers of both carriers.
JAL has a long history of flying to Hawaii, opening that route in 1954. Since then, Hawaii has consistently been a top travel destination despite overall fluctuations in outbound traveler numbers. It is arguably the most popular travel hot spot among Japanese celebrities, who have frequently been seen ringing in the New Year in Hawaii on television shows every year.
JAL suffered one of Japan’s largest bankruptcies in 2010 after a period of overexpansion and massive investments in large aircraft. Ueki said the carrier had been approached by Hawaii Airlines about a potential code-sharing agreement that year, but had to pass due to its dire financial situation at the time.
Since then, JAL managed a turnaround through an aggressive restructuring involving staffing and cost cuts under the leadership of Kazuo Inamori, the founder of electronics firm Kyocera Corp.