All Nippon Airways was to launch direct flights between Narita Airport and Mexico City on Wednesday, the first such flights to Mexico operated by a major Japanese airline company. The move is expected to strengthen Narita’s position as an international hub connecting Asia and the Western Hemisphere.
The company plans to operate daily direct flights to and from Mexico City using its fleet of Boeing 787-8 aircraft. Due to Mexico City’s altitude of more than 2,000 meters above sea level, ANA has refitted aircraft for use on the route with enhanced Rolls-Royce engines.
According to the timetable, flights departing Narita at 4:40 p.m. will arrive at Mexico City at 1:55 p.m. the same day. Returning flights departing Mexico City at 1:00 a.m. arrive back at Narita at 6:35 a.m. the next day. The about 14½-hour flights on the return trip will be ANA’s longest.
The company has established a system in which travelers to Mexico can purchase not only ANA tickets but also those of connecting flights on Mexico’s domestic carriers Aeromexico and Interjet.
Behind ANA’s strategy is the fact that Mexico has become a major destination for Japanese direct investment, with the total amount having increased by 170 percent in the five years from 2010. Major automakers such as Nissan Motor Co. are already operating in Mexico.
ANA began to consider opening a direct route to Mexico approximately three years ago in a bid to respond to growing demand for business trips to the country. As of early February, the first flight from Narita was fully booked, and about 70 percent of the seats on February flights had already been sold.
The reservation rate — higher than for flights to U.S. destinations — matched ANA’s expectations. For March flights, more than 40 percent of seats had been reserved.
ANA has included in its mid-term management plan toward fiscal 2020 a plan to expand new flight routes to destinations in Central and South America as well as cities in Asia, two regions known in the company as “blank areas.”
ANA went ahead with its original plan to open the route despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has cast a chill over the business environment in Mexico, including Japanese companies operating there.
ANA President and CEO Osamu Shinobe told The Japan News: “Mexico is an important production base for Japanese companies. We expect demand for air travel [to Mexico] will stably expand.”
The new flights are poised to help Narita become a major hub on the western Pacific Rim.
During the past Chinese Lunar New Year holiday season, groups of travelers from Singapore were seen rushing to make their connections to international flights at Narita.
In recent years, competition to become a hub for Asia has intensified among international airports in Asia. According to Narita International Airport Corp. (NAA), the airport had 313 flights a week bound for destinations in North America, while Incheon International in South Korea had 188 and Shanghai’s Pudong International had 158 as of November 2016. However, Narita’s edge in the number of flights is offset by its comparatively small total number of international passengers.
According to the Airports Council International’s rankings, 30.54 million passengers used Narita for international flights in 2015, while 48.72 million passed through Incheon for the same purpose. Narita ranked 17th and Incheon was 8th on the list of airports with the most international passengers.
More Asian airline companies could launch direct flights from their countries to North America, thanks to improvements in the fuel economy of aircraft. Given such a trend, NAA opened last October a directly operated passenger lounge at Terminal 1 for international travelers to make transits easier.
Narita’s plan to construct a new third runway is another effort to further internationalize.
“Narita remains in a dominant position in Asia when you look at connectivity with North American destinations. We will continue to broaden our network by making transit times shorter, so that our airport is even more convenient to use,” NAA President and CEO Makoto Natsume told The Japan News.