Japan Airlines returns to growth: steady expansion could be accelerated if labour hurdles cleared

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Japan Airlines is trying to shake off its past and embark on a new phase of growth. The once mighty but now humble airline has announced its first management plan since the 01-Apr-2017 expiration of restrictions. The government imposed restrictions were designed to level the playing field with rival All Nippon Airways regarding the unfair advantages JAL received by going through bankruptcy reorganisation – de rigueur in the US, but not in Japan.

JAL's history and return to expansion are encapsulated in the management plan titled: “Challenge, Leading to Growth”. By Mar-2021, JAL plans to grow internationally by 23% compared to 2016. International aircraft will grow from 85 to 92, while domestic aircraft will slightly shrink from 141 to 139. Its overall fleet expands from 226 to 231 while non flying businesses will grow revenue faster.

There are few other details – announcements are coming, with Melbourne and Kona initial new routes – but JAL's growth could be even faster if it reaches agreement with pilot labour over lingering bankruptcy issues. JAL has achieved a remarkable turnaround, but the challenges that JAL is trying to move on from still impact its business.

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