Japan Airlines is discussing a major order with Boeing and Airbus for the eventual replacement of its Boeing 777 fleet, and the carrier is not averse to splitting the order between more than one aircraft type or manufacturer.
JAL could make a decision relatively quickly “if we can get a good deal,” but otherwise is prepared to postpone a decision, the airline’s chairman Masaru Onishi told Aviation Week at a Oneworld alliance briefing held at the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Cape Town. Fleet replacement for the existing 777s is not due to begin until 2019, so “we have a long lead-time,” Onishi says.
The airline operates a fleet of 45 777s, divided between 777-200s and -300s primarily used in its domestic fleet, and -200ERs and -300ERs for international. Onishi says a wide range of aircraft will be considered as replacements—the 787-9, 787-10X and 777-9X on the Boeing side, as well as the Airbus A350-900 and -1000.
JAL is looking at an order of 40-plus aircraft, says Onishi. Ideally, the carrier would like to replace the 777s with a single package deal, and that is where it will start negotiating. However, if it cannot achieve a package deal, it will address the domestic 777 fleet first, Onishi says.
A divided order—either by aircraft type or manufacturer—is possible. Onishi notes that a fleet of at least 20 of the same type would work for JAL.
Regarding its existing Boeing 787 orders, Onishi says JAL is scheduled to receive seven more by the end of its fiscal year on March 31, in addition to the eight it already operates. JAL has asked Boeing to stick to that schedule, Onishi says.
He admits he feared that customers would be sensitive to flying on 787s following the well-publicized battery issues that temporarily grounded 787 fleets worldwide. “But from bookings, we are not seeing that,” says Onishi. For flights to San Diego, Boston and Singapore, the 787s are “nearly full” through June. With the summer holiday period approaching, bookings on 787 routes are also strong through July.
JAL was forced to postpone the launch of its Tokyo-Helsinki route due to the 787 problems, and now plans to introduce this flight on July 1, says Onishi. He adds that JAL would like to start negotiations with Oneworld partner Finnair on a joint venture arrangement covering the Tokyo-Helsinki route. A joint venture on the Helsinki route would complement JAL’s existing partnership with British Airways, allowing better connections to some European destinations.
Onishi says that for the time being, JAL is not interested in larger widebodies like the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8. “In our market, we don’t need big aircraft,” he says. “If the market changes dramatically, we’ll think about it.” But in the meantime, JAL is more interested in frequency than upscaling to A380s or 747s, he says.