Japan’s own FedEx, continuing the airspace oligarchy

Japan Post is starting an international air cargo company with ANA. That this can happen at all is pretty cool. Pre-Koizumi Japan Post couldn’t enter business deals like this one. For that matter, pre-1980’s ANA basically couldn’t do anything without a government green light (back in the day, JAL had a monopoly on international air travel, JAL and ANA split big-city domestic routes, and ANA and JAS split small-city routes). Now, the two are collaborating to make an East Asian FedEx.

One thing that bugs me, though, is that Japan basically has just two airlines, plus a tiny third guy named Skymark. Almost every commercial airline flight in Japan is ticketed by JAL or ANA, except for a couple of propeller plane flights to minor islands. You’d think that Japan could support some more companies in this area, given that it has a ton of money (recession be damned) and a population that loves to travel.

Debito crammed for a TV interview on the subject back in 1997, and things haven’t changed too much since then. The market is still fairly closed to new competition. JAL and ANA control the market for maintenance and other services, and also connect local routes to their respective international networks (as well as codesharing partners’). As a result, upstarts like Skymark have a tough time breaking through the market; many Skymark flights are codeshared with JAL these days.

Anyway, the part left out of the ANA/Japan Post story is that ANA used to own a quarter of Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA), a company that flies all-freight 747’s from Japan to airports around the world. (If you saw an NCA plane before a few years ago, you might have mistaken it for an ANA plane; the liveries were almost identical.) ANA ended up selling its shares to NCA’s majority owner, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), back in July. So now, through its deal with Japan Post, ANA is getting back into the air freight business, in possible competition with its former joint-venture partner.

Interesting times for the flyboys, indeed.