Founded With 2 Helicopters: The Story Of ANA’s Beginnings

It is difficult to imagine aviation in Japan without All Nippon Airways. Today, ANA operates a fleet of 239 aircraft, including 75 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Furthermore, the airline has a total of 60 aircraft on order. However, the country’s largest carrier by revenue came from much humbler beginnings. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, starting in Japan just before New Year’s Eve 1952.

ANA, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 10 Years
ANA may operate a large fleet of Dreamliners today, but the carrier began operations with only two helicopters. Photo: Getty Images

First private postwar air operator

The Japan Helicopter and Aeroplane Transports Company, or Nippon Herikoputā Yusō – Nippon Helicopter and Aeroplane, was founded on December 27th, 1952. It was to be Japan’s first post-war privately-owned air transport company, established two years after a ban on private air operations imposed by the Allied Forces was lifted.

Nippon Helicopter and Aeroplane commenced operations with just two helicopters two months later. If you have ever wondered why ANA’s IATA airline code is NH, the clue is in the name of its predecessor. However, it was not long until the budding carrier transitioned to fixed-wing aircraft. In December 1953, it flew a de Havilland Dove on a cargo run from Osaka to Tokyo.

Passengers were allowed on board the same service starting in February 1954. A 17-seat de Havilland Heron soon replaced the Dove on the route. In November 1955, the carrier acquired Douglas DC-3s, with almost twice the seating capacity of the Heron. Their introduction also saw the launch of the airline’s first real cabin crew service.

Founded With 2 Helicopters: The Story Of ANA’s Beginnings
Service commenced in February 1953. Photo: ANA

Merging with Far East

Nippon Helicopter was not the only forerunner to ANA, however. Far East Airlines was founded one day before NH but did not commence operations until over a year later. The airline also operated a de Havilland Dove on cargo routes before upgrading to DC-3s in early 1957. Later the same year, Nippon Helicopter changed its name to All Nippon Airways. A few months later, in March 1958, All Nippon Airways and Far East Airlines merged.

A real step-up for ANA’s connectivity came in 1959 with the Convair 440 Metropolitan. The acquisition allowed the carrier to operate from Osaka to Tokyo without stopping in Nagoya, cutting the flight time by nearly an hour. The airline also operated Fokker F-27 Friendships and Vickers Viscounts before entering the turbine jet age with the Boeing 727 in May 1964.

Founded With 2 Helicopters: The Story Of ANA’s Beginnings
ANA has operated a range of aircraft over the years, including the Fokker Friendship. Photo: Hideyuki Kamon via Wikimedia Commons

Launch customer of the YS-11

In 1962, ANA became the launch customer for the NAMC YS-11 A-500R Olympia – Japan’s only postwar wholly domestically designed and manufactured passenger plane, until the Mitsubishi SpaceJet. The airline continued to operate the turboprop all the way to 1991. The Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Company built 182 copies of the plane. It was operated by airlines all over the world, such as Olympic Airways and Aerolíneas Argentinas.

International services

After a few tentative chartered flights to China in the 1970s, ANA finally commenced regular international service between Tokyo Narita and Guam in 1986, operating a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. The last Lockheed left the airline’s fleet in 1995. The years since have seen ANA operate all manner of Boeing and Airbus aircraft to shape the fleet it has today.

Founded With 2 Helicopters: The Story Of ANA’s Beginnings
ANA still operates helicopters through its subsidiary ANH. Photo: Airbus

After a few tentative chartered flights to China in the 1970s, ANA finally commenced regular international service between Tokyo Narita and Guam in 1986, operating a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. The last Lockheed left the airline’s fleet in 1995. The years since have seen ANA operate all manner of Boeing and Airbus aircraft to shape the fleet it has today.

A return to roots

However, the company has not entirely forgotten its roots. Through its subsidiary All Nippon Helicopters (ANH), it operates a fleet of six Airbus AS365s and five H135s in the service of TV stations across Japan. In January this year, its first H160 performed its maiden flight at the Marseille Provence Airport. But that is a story for another time.

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