Hokkaido Air System is to launch a scheduled domestic operation from March 1998, following its recent initial order for two Saab 340BPLUS turboprops.

The Japanese start-up, a joint venture between Japan Air System (JAS), which owns 51%, and the Hokkaido prefectural government, is the second local start-up carrier after Hokkaido International Airlines, which is to begin flights between Sapporo and Osaka from April, with leased Boeing 767s.

The regional airline will operate the Saabs two-to-three times daily on routes on the Japanese northern island, between Hakodate, Kushiro and Asakikawa, and Hakodate and Sapporo. Other island destinations will be added in early 1999.

The airline says that it would also like to fly beyond Hokkaido "to regional cities on the main island of Honshu, such as Aomori, Sendai and Niigata, as well as short-distance overseas routes, especially the Russian Far East".

The expansion of regional services to Russia hinges on several factors, however, including gaining access to Sapporo's main Chitose international airport.

"This is important for flights to locations such as Sakhalin and Vladivostok, since we would be picking up passengers in transit from other locations in Japan," says Hokkaido. The carrier estimates average earnings of ´600 million ($5 million) per aircraft per year.

Source: Flight International