All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s biggest carrier, announced the introductory date of its third Airbus A380, the Flying Honu in sunset orange livery. The double-decker will join two other A380s operating between Tokyo and Honolulu, Hawaii (United States) on July 1, 2020.

Airbus’ delivery of the third Super Jumbo will allow the Japanese airline to offer a double-daily flight to Hawaii’s capital, increasing its weekly frequencies served by the double-deckers from 10 to 14 per week. The newest A380 will replace a Boeing 777-300ER that currently operates between Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) and Honolulu International Airport (HNL).

Senior Vice President of All Nippon Airways, Seiichi Takahashi, noted that the airline designed the interior of the A380 specifically for the route, including “family-friendly seating and a custom interior.”

“Combined with design cues from Hawaiian (HA) culture, the unparalleled comfort and capacity of the Flying Honus will allow ANA to provide unrivaled service and efficiency on this increasingly prominent route,” Takahashi continued.

Following the addition of the third Airbus A380, ANA’s capacity between Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and Honolulu International (HNL) is set to increase by 17.4%: from 12400 to 14560 weekly seats round-trip. Even without the addition of the third A380, ANA controls 32.5% of the market between Tokyo’s both airports, including Haneda (HND) and Honolulu – a major hot spot for outbound tourism from Japan.

Yet airlines around the world, including the biggest A380 operator, Emirates, are shying away from the double-decker. Does it make sense for ANA to purchase three Super Jumbos just to operate one route?

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Mapping the market: Japanese interest in Hawaii

Japan is one of the biggest tourism markets in Hawaii – not only evident by the fact that airlines offer 176 weekly flights round-trip, even during the winter months, but also by the fact that in 2018, Japanese tourists accounted for 12.2% of total visitors to the islands, the third-largest demographic group behind visitors from West Coast and East Coast of the United States.

Further data, provided by Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT), indicates that visitors from the Land of the Rising Sun are also the third-biggest spenders: splashing as much as $2.1 billion in 2018, averaging $241 per day. What is even more interesting, Hawaii continues to be a hot-spot for returning visitors as well: 66.9% of total arrivals from Japan visited the islands beforehand.

All in all, 1.48 million tourists arrived in Hawaii from Japan. Worryingly, though, compared to 2017, the number fell by 2.3%, even if capacity rose by 2.7% to 2.0 million yearly seats – an average load factor of 72.9%. A study paper called “Consequences of feeder delays for the success of A380 operations” by Ruehle, Goetsch and Koch claimed that in order for the A380 to reach profitability, around 70% of its seats need to be filled in a 550-seat configuration on board. ANA, meanwhile, configures its A380s to carry 520 passengers: eight First Class, 56 Business Class, 73 Premium Economy, and 383 Economy seats.