Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Cover Story

Unmanned Potential


It was a different world a half-century ago when Boeing first incorporated to do business in Japan. The date was February 1953 and Japan was still rebuilding following World War II. Fortunately, two brand-new airlines were there to help.

Formed in May 1951, JAL had recently begun flying DC-4s and other propeller airliners on domestic routes. In February 1954, it became an international carrier with the inauguration of DC-6B services linking Tokyo with San Francisco via Hawaii.

In December 1952, meantime, the company that would be ANA had also come into being. By the mid-1950s, the fledgling carrier was flying twin-engine DC-3s and smaller propeller types in domestic service.

From those humble beginnings, JAL and ANA have risen to fame. Both airlines successfully paced Japan’s astonishing economic growth over the succeeding decades and today play vital roles, providing Japan with an essential infrastructure for air travel and commerce.

JAL is primarily an intercontinental carrier with some regional and domestic operations as well (Japan Airlines System, or the JAL Group, includes both Japan Airlines and Japan Air System). ANA is just the opposite, being primarily a domestic carrier that also flies regional and intercontinental routes.

The success of these two airlines took vision, hard work, and the right airplanes. The Boeing Company—including McDonnell Douglas, which is today part of Boeing—is proud and grateful to have supplied these airplanes to Japan.

Boeing jets in Japan

In 1964, ANA and JAL both ordered the Boeing 727. Those first Heritage Boeing airliners in Japan brought jet speeds and services to smaller communities across the nation. But it was JAL’s 1966 order for Boeing 747 jumbo jets—only the second placed by any airline—that truly cemented the JAL-Boeing relationship.

At the time, JAL was doing quite well with its Douglas DC-8 jets. Nevertheless, JAL’s visionary leaders saw that the proposed Boeing jumbo fit their projected fleet requirements. Their early order showed great faith in Boeing, coming as it did three years before the 747 even flew.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since that time, JAL has taken delivery of more than 100 747s. It currently flies about 80 of the big jets, more than any other operator in the world. No other airline in the world is more closely identified with the 747-400 in particular. It is JAL’s signature airliner.

While ANA currently flies more than 30 747s, its signature jet is the Boeing 767. Nearly 60 of these hardworking widebody jets form the backbone of ANA’s domestic and regional fleet, making ANA the largest 767 operator outside of the United States.

Japan’s unique jets

By the start of the 1970s, it was obvious that ANA’s and JAL’s 727s—and the 737s that ANA was by then also flying—could not handle the country’s exploding travel demand, which surged relentlessly ahead hand-in-hand with the nation’s economy. Thinking “outside of the box,” Boeing engineers came up with an innovative solution called the 747SR (SR for “short range”).

The 747 is a long-haul jet that generally flies once a day. It was not designed to withstand the frequent pressurization cycles and numerous daily takeoffs and landings of shuttle use between the major islands of Japan. Boeing engineers rose to the challenge, redesigning the big jet’s structure and landing gear to withstand the additional stresses and accelerated fatigue of short-haul operations.

Fitted with 525-seat shuttles, 747SRs entered service with JAL in 1973 and later in the decade with ANA as well. The jets were an instant success. Without these big shuttles, in fact, Japan’s economic growth and the ability of its people to move freely about the country would have been severely constrained.

The 747SR and its replacement, the 568-seat 747-400D (D for “domestic”), are unique in the annals of commercial aviation because Boeing developed them specifically to address the requirements of just one country. No other commercial jet manufacturer has ever fielded a major derivative to meet the needs of just a single nation.

Friends and partners

Of course, Japan isn’t just any nation. One of the world’s leading economies, it is also the largest individual market for commercial jet transports outside of the United States. While Japan flies all sizes of jets, the greatest demand is for widebody models.

“We have a long history of working together, of helping one another,” said Rick Martin, BCA senior sales director for Japan and previously president of Boeing Japan. “It’s very much a partnership, not a buyer-and-seller relationship. That to me is the foundation of a truly successful relationship.”

Partners take a long view and help each other, Martin said. “JAL has always been willing to accept airplanes sooner than scheduled to help us fill gaps in our production lines,” he said by way of example, “and we routinely go the extra mile to be flexible in accommodating JAL’s fleet needs. We’re both fully committed to finding win-win solutions every step of the way because we know that loyalty and long-term relationships depend on honorable dealings and best efforts.”

The 777 in Japan

In December 1990, ANA placed the second order by any airline—and the first by an international customer—for the new Boeing 777, development of which had just begun. The first entirely digitally designed jetliner, the 777 was the also first “customer-defined” transport. Boeing invited ANA, JAL and dozens of other airlines worldwide to participate in fine-tuning the new jet’s features and capabilities.

ANA took full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity. Throughout the 777’s development, there were at least five ANA people on site at Everett, Wash., and sometimes as many as 20 at once. ANA engineers and maintenance technicians participated in design-build teams, ANA pilots flew the 777 engineering simulator, and ANA flight attendants helped ensure that the evolving jet’s cabin features, systems and amenities were as good as they could be.

Thanks to ANA, folding wingtips—a feature of questionable value that added unnecessary weight—were deleted from the 777 design. Also at ANA’s suggestion, the 777-200’s fuselage was lengthened to accommodate two additional rows of revenue-generating passenger seats.

JAL also contributed to the 777’s design. No culture places more importance on pleasing customers than Japan, which is why JAL experts challenged U.S. design engineers to reduce extraneous cabin noises in ways that might never have occurred to them.

As the subsequent success of the 777 shows, the teamwork paid off for all parties. Boeing officials said they are “very grateful” to ANA, JAL, and other airlines around the world for their help bringing the right product to market.

ANA fleet renewal

In April 2003, ANA announced its decision to acquire some 45 Boeing 737 airplanes—mainly 737-700s—to replace its current mixed fleet of single-aisle jets. This selection was based primarily on the 737’s efficiency, reliability, and compatibility with ANA’s domestic route network.

“The day ANA called to tell us they’d decided on the 737, we knew the papers were as good as signed,” recalled Joe McAleer, BCA sales director for All Nippon Airways. “Honor and integrity are inextricably intertwined with everything the Japanese do and say. You can count on a person’s word or handshake—it’s a great way to do business.”

JAL’s 150th Boeing widebody

According to Japanese tradition, breaking open a barrel of sake signifies a new beginning and a happy and prosperous time to come. On May 7, 2003, JAL and Boeing senior executives together breached a cask of the rice wine to mark another major milestone: delivery of JAL’s 149th and 150th Boeing widebody jetliners.

As this happy ceremony suggests, Japan Airlines and Boeing Commercial Airplanes have a partnership rather than a mere business relationship. There is a strong reverence for what has been accomplished in the past and an exciting sense of shared destinies in the future.

The same is true of the Boeing relationship with ANA. As with JAL, it is a partnership based on trust, mutual admiration, hard work, shared vision and—above all—countless friendships forged over decades of mutually beneficial achievement.

“When I look back over nearly 20 years of working closely with JAL and ANA,” says Larry S. Dickenson, BCA senior vice president for sales, “I realize how fortunate I am to be able to do business with some of my best friends in the world. The friendships I’ve formed in Japan are precious gifts—they mean the world to me.”


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