Skymark #3 in Japanese domestic market; new routes focus on developing Kobe as hub

Image: Skymark at Kobe
Christmas Day saw Skymark’s launch of twice daily Kobe and Okinawa services (see report and photo in Route News). Troubled JAL and its subsidiary JTA are pulling out of Kobe, which leaves lower-cost Skymark to develop it as a second base against ANA. Photo sent by Keisaku Kimura, Business Manager, Kobe Airport Terminal Co.

Change has come, or at least is coming to Japan – JAL’s problems have lead to the national carrier’s announcement that it is withdrawing from a range of markets, including operations at the significant Kobe Airport. Independent Skymark Airlines is responding by making Kobe a secondary base. Skymark is not big by Japanese standards, but it is a big enough airline to grow very fast in this extensive domestic market.

The general perception about the Japanese domestic air travel market is that it is basically a duopoly involving ANA and JAL – and that’s pretty much the case. Analysis of OAG schedule data for January 2010 reveals the following market shares in terms of flights and seats in the domestic market.

Airline Frequency share Capacity share
ANA 48.0% 50.3%
JAL 34.1% 35.8%
Skymark Airlines 3.7% 3.4%
Japan Transocean Air 4.2% 3.2%
Air Do 3.0% 2.9%
JAL Express 3.1% 2.6%
Star Flyer 1.6% 1.2%
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 4 January 2010
Image: Skymark Tail
Skymark did not dismiss anna.aero suggestions that it may add add flights to Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Nagasaki and Sapporo before the end of the year, in addition to the two new routes already announced out of Kobe. Photo: Skymark IR.

Given that Japan Transocean Air (JTA) is majority owned by JAL and that Air Do codeshares with ANA, the two biggest domestic airlines have, in effect, 95% of the domestic market. Skymark Airlines, which began operations in 1998, is the largest independent carrier and transported some three million passengers on domestic flights in 2008 (or about the same Ryanair had at the start of 1997) and currently has a fleet of 12 737-800s, each equipped with 180 seats. The two most recent aircraft to join the airline did so in November and December 2009. The airline used to operate a small number of 767-300s, but these have now been disposed of.

Growing domestic network with focus on Kobe

Until recently, the airline operated just six domestic routes, five from Tokyo Haneda and double-daily flights from Fukuoka to Okinawa. However, Christmas Day (25 December 2009) saw the launch of twice-daily flights between Kobe and Okinawa (Naha) while double-daily flights between Kobe and Fukuoka are scheduled to begin on 1 February 2010.

The airline is keen to make Kobe a secondary base and in addition to the two new routes already announced, there are indications that the airline will add flights to Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Nagasaki and Sapporo before the end of the year.

Chart: Skymark route network - Weekly departing frequencies
Source: OAG Max Online

Image: Skymark AdAnalysis of the airline’s current (January) schedule indicates that just 12 aircraft are required to operate the flying programme. Seven aircraft appear to overnight in Tokyo Haneda, two in Kobe, and one each in Fukuoka, Okinawa and Sapporo. Only three flights (all from Haneda) depart before 07:00, while only two flights return to base after 22:00.

It is quite difficult to find out information about Skymark, but a noticeable indicator of growth provided by WASINC International is heavy advertising for “immediate openings for qualified 737 captains for Skymark Airlines to be based in Tokyo” with the advice to applicants: “Take your time – there’s plenty more coming up.”

Image: Skymark also sponsors the local Kobe baseball stadium
Expansion at Kobe not only in the air: Skymark also sponsors the local baseball stadium

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