The first Japan-Honolulu flight, on the Japan Airlines plane City of Tokyo, left Haneda Airport on Feb. 2, 1954.

Japan Airlines marks
50 years of connecting
Honolulu and Tokyo

Japan Airlines, Asia's largest airline, will celebrate its 50th anniversary of providing international service from Tokyo to Honolulu tomorrow with commemorative flights and receptions in the state and overseas.

And with any luck, it soon will be celebrating a return to the high-flying days before the Japanese tourism industry dropped as a result of a weakened economy, SARS, the war with Iraq and other geopolitical concerns, said Gilbert Kimura, Japan Airlines' director of passenger and cargo sales in Hawaii.

JAL President Seijiro Yanagita and other dignitaries were greeted by the May Day court upon arrival in Honolulu.

Kimura is optimistic that the Japanese tourism industry in Hawaii is on the road to recovery. Although visitor numbers from Japan are still far from their highs of more than 2 million a year, Kimura said he and others in the industry are buoyed that the latest tourism numbers released by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism show an upswing for the last six months of 2003.

"Things are looking better," Kimura said, adding that if numbers improve as a result of the state's Hawaii Tourism Japan marketing plan, JAL could add more flights.

Hawaii is JAL's biggest single overseas destination. The airline, which inaugurated its first international flight from Japan to San Francisco in 1954, now runs 56 weekly flights from Japan to Honolulu and Kona. It also offers same-day connections from all major cities in Asia to Honolulu via Japan.

Although the carrier recently reduced Japan-Hawaii flights by about 20 percent, Kimura believes flights could be resumed at regional airports in Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata and Hiroshima if tourism efforts increase the demand for travel.

Load factors, which show how full planes are, already have increased about 70 percent to 90 percent, Kimura said.

"If we are able to add more flights it will be good for everyone," he said. "More flights will bring more tourists."


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