All Nippon Airways (ANA) hasn’t had it easy lately. The weak yen has led the airline to losses. And as the first and most prolific 787 operator, it took a huge hit when the aircraft was grounded. Flights were canceled, and people were unhappy. But that’s no longer an issue (hopefully for good), and ANA is moving forward.
But the ANA strategy has looked pretty odd from a distance. The airline is really a mix of a lot of different airlines and related companies (including a recent purchase of a piece of Myanmar’s Asia Wings). I can’t quite figure out how they all the puzzle pieces fit, but it sure is fun to try. Let’s take a look at just a few of them.
Charter and Cargo
ANA flies a bunch of widebodies itself, including 767s. So why does it need a full subsidiary that also specializes in operating 767s only under the ANA brand throughout Asia? I don’t know. It seems fairly duplicative to me. And it gets even more confusing. Some of the airplanes are cargo, and those came after Air Japan was merged with ANA & JP Express (one airline, two names). The latter appears to have been partially owned by the Japanese postal service but ANA bought out that interest and merged these two together. I’m assuming another joint venture, Allex Cargo, also got folded in here somehow because I don’t see any recent mentions of that airline.
As far as I know, “Nippon” means “Japan” in the local language. (It’s like saying Deutschland and Germany are the same thing, which they are.) So you would think that Air Japan and Air Nippon would be the same thing, but they aren’t. To be fair, Air Nippon no longer exists. It was a domestic 737 operator in Japan that has since been merged into ANA. But it also had a feeder network called Air Nippon Network and that was merged into ANA Wings….
This subsidiary is one that makes sense to me. ANA Wings is the main regional operator for ANA. It was formed fairly recently after Air Nippon Network was merged with Air Next and Air Central. But the Japanese definition of a regional operator is a little different than ours here in the US. The airline is phasing out its last Dash 8-300 aircraft so that it will operate nothing smaller than 70 seats including 16 737s. You won’t see that happen in the US.
Food Low Cost Carriers
Here’s where things get weird. It’s bad enough when an airline owns its own low cost carrier, but ANA has three of them. Seriously.
Peach was started up with some outside investors and was based at Osaka’s Kansai airport. With its fleet of A320s, it flies around Japan and regionally within Asia. Peach kind of looks like you would expect it would. It does everything the low cost carriers do with things like charging for luggage, etc, but it does it with a characteristic Japanese goofiness. Want to reserve a seat? There are four different categories of seats you can reserve. Fast Seat (first row), Stretch Seat (exit row), Pleasure Seat (all seats in front of the exit and window seats-only behind the exit), or Standard Seat (behind the wing). Think people buy the Pleasure Seat just for the name?
Oh, and why the name Peach? “Peach aims to become an airline company loved by both Asia and Japan much like the fruit…”
Vanilla Air (Air Asia Japan)
As if Peach wasn’t enough, ANA decided to do a joint venture with Air Asia to create Air Asia Japan. It’s a low cost carrier based in Tokyo. Why bother having a separate company here instead of just merging with Peach? I’m guessing it was one of those “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” types of moves to get Air Asia on its side. But then why wouldn’t the Air Asia brand be good for the Osaka-based low cost carrier as well? Both are operating A320s, so that wasn’t an issue. I just have no idea.
Apparently this one has not worked well at all. In fact, the deal is dead, and Air Asia is pulling out. Seems like the perfect opportunity to just merge the remains with Peach if you’re ANA, right? Wrong. Instead, ANA is going to shut this thing down in October, give it different A320s (the old ones go back to Air Asia), and re-start in December as Vanilla Air. Mmm, delicious.
The oldest and only inedible company of the bunch is Air Do, an airline that is based on the island of Hokkaido at the northern end of Japan. The big city there? Sapporo. Air Do was backed by the local government and helped bring fares down, but it ran into financial trouble. ANA ended up being part of the bailout and, well, now they’re best friends despite Air Do’s original mission to crush ANA and JAL. So effectively ANA bailed this airline out to get it on its side, I’m guessing.
I didn’t even touch on the other businesses that ANA owns. For example, it already owns a flight training academy, but now it’s buying another one, Pan Am. And there’s plenty more.
I know this kind of model is much more common in Asia, but I have trouble wrapping my head around the reason for all of these. Anyone have a good explanation?
[Original airplane photo via Shutterstock]