Why Widebodies Are Used For Some Japanese Domestic Flights

If you’ve ever flown some of Japan’s most popular domestic routes, there’s a good chance it was on a widebody aircraft. The country’s domestic aviation market is one of the few in the world where multiple airlines deploy multiple widebody aircraft on a wide variety of routes – often with high frequencies.

ANA provides as many as 10 Boeing 787 flights per day between Tokyo and Sapporo. It also deploys the 767 on this route. Photo: Paul Schmid via Wikimedia Commons 

Historically this has also included Boeing 747s and 777s adapted for short-haul use. In recent years, aircraft like Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s have moved in on these routes, while the 767 also continues to be a trusty workhorse as well. Let’s examine why widebodies are used for certain domestic routes and look at some examples.

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Made possible with high demand

The answer, plain and simple, is that the Japanese domestic market has sufficient demand to justify the use of widebodies on certain routes. In other countries, there might be enough demand to justify the occasional widebody flight – but typically, airlines would opt to offer higher frequencies with smaller aircraft instead.

Not only is there enough demand on certain Japanese domestic routes to support widebody aircraft, but there is so much traffic that multiple airlines can offer high frequencies with these widebodies.

The Airbus A350 is deployed on domestic routes with Japan Airlines. Photo: Airbus

This demand is made possible with a relatively high population and a relatively high standard of living. This means that there are plenty of people who want to travel within the country with the financial resources to do so. Japan has a population of roughly 126.3 million, with Tokyo alone having over nine million inhabitants.

Faster than the train

While Japan has some of the fastest train service in the world, taking to the skies can be faster and indeed cheaper. If we take Tokyo to Sapporo as our prime example, we can see that going by train will take roughly eight hours. This is much longer than the 90-minute flight between the two cities – even if airport transfers and the entire airport terminal process is taken into account.

Considering the increased time- and most often, the increased cost associated with rail, Japan’s residents would much prefer flying over a lengthy trip on the train.

While traveling between Tokyo and the Osaka area by high-speed train might be a competitive option, going longer distances will be faster by air travel. Photo: BradBeattie via Wikimedia Commons 

Which aircraft and where?

According to OAG’s list of busiest domestic routes, Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Sapporo (CTS) is the second busiest in the world, having offered 12,498,468 seats over the course of the year.

Indeed, a quick flight search shows that ANA offers around 10 Boeing 787 flights between Tokyo and Sapporo in a single day. This is on top of a few flights operated by 767s as well. Searching the same route on the same day will also show Japan Airlines (JAL) flying multiple 767, 777, and A350 services while Air Do (previously Hokkaido International Airlines) has multiple services using its Boeing 767s. That’s on top of low-cost carriers Peach, Jetstar, and Skymark running high-frequency narrowbody services as well.

Air Do runs as many as 12 round-trip flights between Tokyo and Sapporo in a single day. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons 

OAG data shows that four of the Top 10 busiest domestic routes involve Tokyo’s Haneda airport. We’ve already covered Haneda-Sapporo; here are the other three:

  • Haneda-Fukuoka (FUK), with 11,400,018 seats,
  • Haneda-Okinawa (OKA) with 7,704,098 seats,
  • And Haneda-Osaka Itami (ITM) with 7,248,300 seats.

At a time when international air travel is severely restricted, airlines have increasingly had to rely on domestic air travel. Despite being a relatively small country, it looks like Japan is doing okay in this area.

Have you traveled domestically by air in Japan? Was it on a widebody aircraft? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.