Japan Air Commuter has taken delivery of its first ATR 42-600.
The JAL Group carrier has ordered a total of nine of the turboprops, to be delivered by the end of 2019. Purchase rights span a further 14, and JAC has an option to convert orders to the larger ATR 72.
Configured with 48 seats, the ATR 42-600s will be used to replace JAC's Saab 340 fleet. Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that the Kagoshima-based airline has nine Saab 340s equipped with 36 seats and built between 1992 and 1999.
JAC also has nine Bombardier Q400s aged between nine and 14 years old. Airline president Hiroki Kato tells FlightGlobal that the Q400s will need to be replaced after 2020, but no decision has yet been made. "We have to think [as part of] JAL Group," he says. But noting commOnality between the ATR 42 and ATR 72, he adds: "If we grow passenger numbers, then we order the ATR 72."
The carrier's main business is in servicing the Amami islands off the coast of southwest Japan. Kato acknowledges that the operation of that network depends on government subsidies and that the local population is shrinking. But he sees an opportunity for growth of tourist traffic as the islands are set to become a Unesco world heritage area.
JAC intends to have its ATRs maintained by its in-house technical operation. It has not signed an MRO agreement with the manufacturer.
The airline represents ATR's first direct customer in Japan. Kumamoto-based Amakusa Airlines is the manufacturer's only other Japanese operator with a single, leased ATR 42-600.
ATR chief executive Christian Scherer says JAC's selection of what the airline labels the "ecopropjet" represents a significant endorsement as "Japanese passengers are arguably among the most conscious and demanding travellers" as regards environmental performance.
This story has been updated to clarify that "ecopropjet" is JAC's description of the aircraft