Japanese budget start-up ZIPAIR plans US flights despite coronavirus pandemic

Apr 23, 2020

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At a time when most airlines can’t pull down service fast enough, one Japanese start-up carrier has unveiled plans for a new U.S. route.

Budget carrier ZIPAIR plans to begin flights to Hawaii during its first year of service, though when that will occur depends on the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tokyo-based carrier is seeking a foreign air carrier permit from U.S. regulators that would allow it to begin flights to the country, ZIPAIR said in an application to the Department of Transportation on April 20. The airline plans to initially fly to Honolulu (HNL) from Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) airport.

ZIPAIR, a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, will launch with a fleet of two Boeing 787-8s. The jets will be configured with 290 seats, including 18 lie-flat premium seats and 272 economy seats, according to the application.

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COVID-19 has put a question mark on ZIPAIR’s plans. The airline has indefinitely postponed its first flight, between Tokyo and Bangkok (BKK), that was planned for May. But the carrier maintains plans to begin Seoul Incheon (ICN) service on July 1.

ZIPAIR aims to begin flights to Honolulu around the end of October. However, those plans will depend on the lifting of travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus and the return of passenger demand for flights to Hawaii.

There is the possibility that ZIPAIR may not launch this year at all. Parent JAL has slashed domestic capacity nearly in half through May 6, and will fly just 6% of its international schedule through the end of May. The cuts include suspending all flights to Hawaii.

Whenever ZIPAIR does land in Hawaii, it will face stiff competition. All Nippon Airways (ANA), Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JAL, Korean Air and United Airlines all are due to fly between Tokyo and Honolulu in October, according to Cirium schedules.

ANA even operated a fleet of dedicated fleet of Airbus A380s on Honolulu flights before the crisis hit.

Related: Flying Honu to Hawaii: A Review of ANA’s A380 Business Class

Featured image by Kyodo News via Getty Images.

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