All Nippon Airways has quietly caught up with Japan Airlines as its local rival has regrouped after a turbulent couple of years financially. And the airline is about to enter the global spotlight as it flies Boeing’s 787 on its debut passenger service.

As JAL teetered on the verge of bankruptcy again in 2010, it went begging for a state bailout. Meanwhile, as chief executive Shinichiro Ito points out in this month’s Airline Business cover interview, ANA continues to be profitable and grow without government help. “I’m not sure if JAL is a great competitor to compare ourselves against any more,” Ito says.

ANA’s aim, he says, is to continue to be profitable and return value to shareholders. That will be a major challenge.

Sinichiro Ito

After returning to profitability in 2010, with the global economic crisis resulting in the airline making a loss in 2009, there are plenty of headwinds once again to keep his management team busy.

And in the near-term the team have to ensure a smooth introduction for the Dreamliner – something the airline has had to put on ice on numerous occasions amid the constant programme delays. ANA knew Boeing was aiming to unveil a product that would transform the way airliners are designed and manufactured, and was prepared for some hiccups along the way. However nobody, including Boeing, could have foretold the numerous challenges in the design and production phase that led to a three-year delay in its delivery schedules.

“There was a great deal of frustration as our fleet plan has been forced to change for three years. But there would have been a bigger impact if we did not do anything at all – we modified our fleet plan and did not let the delay distort our business,” Ito says. “As we say, a more difficult delivery can only make the baby more precious and adorable. We are now going to get the 787 and have more expectation than anything else, we can now do whatever we wanted to do three years ago.”

In the coming years, ANA will need to start replacing some of its Boeing 777s – the backbone of its long-range fleet. While Ito says the Airbus A350 has some overlap with the 787 “in terms of range and performance”, he says ANA has not ruled it out. “We are studying the A350 very seriously and in detail,” he adds.

Source: Airline Business