Carriers affected by Sino-Japanese territorial disputes

5 Feb 2013

Political tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea have impacted demand for flights between the two nations, prompting some carriers to consider reducing services.

In China, Shanghai-based Spring Airlines – a privately owned low-cost carrier – is considering ceasing flights to Japan due to the territorial dispute. The carrier’s chairman Wang Zhenghua told Bloomberg that flights to and from Japan were flying at 50 per cent capacity compared with an average of 92 per cent on other sectors.

“We’ve never had such empty flights in Spring’s history,” Wang said. A spokesperson from Spring told Business Traveller that in fact the airline has already ceased its charter services to the holiday destination of Tottori in western Japan and may consider dropping its commercial services to Ibaraki (north of Tokyo), Takamatsu (on Shikoku island) and Saga (near Fukuoka).

“This political limbo is giving us a tough time, as we don’t know when the market can recover,” said Zhenghua.

According to a financial statement released by Japan Airlines (JAL) on January 4, 2013, stagnation in the third quarter of last year is partially attributed to “strained diplomatic relations due to territorial issues” with China. JAL’s traffic data for services to and from China display a drop in load factor from 65.5 per cent in 2011 to 54.4 per cent in December 2012. In September last year, the dispute got so heated that anti-Japanese riots broke out in Chinese cities (see story here).

All Nippon Airways (ANA) has also reported a marked decrease in demand on Japan-China services “due to the impact of anti-Japanese demonstrations”. As tensions peaked in October and November last year, demand for travel on ANA's flights between Japan and China dropped by 26 and 28 per cent respectively, culminating in the carrier operating certain key routes with smaller aircraft in order to align demand with capacity. The Narita-Beijing and Kansai-Beijing flights are now operated by B737s instead of the B767, while a B767 replaces a B777-200 on the Narita-Shanghai service.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific will keep an eye on the developing situation and report on any changes that may follow. 

Alisha Haridasani

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