Japan airlines making inroads into direct shipping business

Courtesy of Japan Airlines Co.
A worker loads products onto a Japan Airlines container.

Airlines are expanding the scope of their business operations to ship marine and agricultural products directly from regional areas.

Air freighting has a distinct speed advantage over road and rail when it comes to transporting products from Hokkaido, Kyushu and other regions to urban areas, and products arrive in very fresh condition. Industry observers are now wondering if the airlines can generate solid revenues from this new area as they struggle to cope with deteriorating returns due to the decline in passenger numbers caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since late June, Japan Airlines Co. has used passenger aircraft to deliver to Tokyo supermarkets about 2 tons of Hokkaido-caught scallops. After being peeled locally in the morning, the scallops are on store shelves the following day. The scallops are not frozen during transit, so they retain their crunchy texture.

“[Air-freighting] is about 10% more costly, but the quality and freshness of the scallops are competitive enough,” said a representative of a Tokyo-based Keio store, which uses the air freight service.

The scallops’ packaging features a sticker bearing the Japan Airlines logo and the phrase “Delivered from the sky.” The fresh scallops are growing in popularity, the Keio representative said.

The airline intends to increase the number of products it handles this way.

“Major shipping companies can’t transport all the perishable goods from regional areas,” said Japan Airlines President Yuji Akasaka. “Looking ahead, we want to offer this service overseas, too.”

In January, ANA Holdings Inc. established a company called Nihon Sanchoku Kuyu, which transports goods from production areas by air. With a tagline that runs “Freshness by the fastest possible shipping,” the company delivers such regional products as seafood, vegetables and flowers to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Ekubofarm, an organic vegetable producer based in Kagoshima Prefecture, uses the service. President Tatsuya Kubo said: “Thanks to the air freight service, we can deliver fresh, high-quality products from Kagoshima to Tokyo. If we only sold locally, the goods would be swamped by other products. But in Tokyo, we can differentiate our products.”

Solaseed Air Inc. based in Miyazaki uses its own vehicles to collect perishable and other products in the city, before loading them onto flights bound for Haneda Airport. The firm’s employees then use the road network to deliver the goods, thus offering an integrated air-and-land transport service.