All Nippon Airways is preparing to phase out Boeing 747-400s from its long-haul fleet within three years. The Japanese carrier has already switched to new Boeing 777-300ERs on all five of its US routes. The same version will be used on some Tokyo Narita-London Heathrow flights from 24 May and will be used on all Heathrow flights by year-end.

Frankfurt and Paris will be ANA's only remaining international routes served with 747-400s, but airline sources say these too will be switched to smaller 777-300ERs by March 2010 at the very latest.

ANA operates eight 777-300ERs and has another nine on order, including four ordered last month. It currently has 23 747-400s, but most of these are operated on domestic routes.

ANA executive vice-president international relations Katsuhiko Kitabayashi says all the domestic 747-400s will also eventually be replaced with smaller aircraft, although a final retirement date has not yet been set. "We prefer frequency rather than capacity," he says, adding ANA is looking to sell its remaining 747-400s "as soon as possible".

Kitabayashi does not see a need for domestic 747s after a fourth runway opens up at Tokyo's Haneda airport in 2010. The new runway will give carriers extra slots to increase frequencies on domestic routes and to launch international services to other Asian countries.

In mid-March the Japanese government delayed the opening of Haneda's long-planned fourth runway from 2009 until 2010, giving ANA and rival Japan Airlines one more year to prepare for the increased competition that will result from Haneda opening to international flights and new domestic low-cost carriers.

ANA is planning to launch its own low-cost carrier after Haneda expands and JAL is restructuring its entire business in anticipation.

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Source: Flight International