Flights of fancy / Kumamoto
Characterised by its tiny fleet and dolphin-adorned livery, Japan’s Amakusa Airline takes a quirky line in attracting new customers.
In Japan, Amakusa Airline is as small as carriers get. Based on the Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto prefecture, the firm operates up to 10 flights to four cities daily with just one aircraft: a 39-seat Bombardier turbo-propeller DHC-8-103.
The airline launched in 1998 as a joint venture between local governments. There were other ways of travelling between Amakusa and the main island of Kyushu – by ferry or car over the Amakusa Gokyo bridges – but it was felt an airline would boost trade and tourism.
Not every flight starts or ends on the Amakusa Islands so targeting would-be tourists on the Osaka-Kumamoto flight is one of the airline’s goals. The inflight newsletter offers tips on dining and dolphin watching (hence the aircraft’s dolphin-themed paint job) and on-board snacks feature shrimp rice crackers, ponkan (tangerine) juice and other local fare. Two years ago the airline won national attention with its limited- offer Dolphin Paradise ticket: for just ¥15,000 (€115) travellers got a one-day pass on all 10 routes but they had to be on every flight, starting from 08.00 and lasting until 19.30. “If you got off before the last flight you had to pay for each flight separately,” says sales and marketing head Shigeo Kawasaki.
The airline’s prospects have looked brighter in recent times and by early 2016 a new twin-engine turboprop ATR 42-600, built by French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, will replace the Bombardier workhorse. It’s still undecided whether the ATR will also have the dolphin paint job.
Number of staff: 57
Number of planes: 1 Bombardier turbo-propeller DHC-8-103
Passengers transported last year: 76,000
Seats per flight: 39
Revenue last year: ¥750m (€5.6m)