Skymark Airlines

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Skymark Airlines
Sukai Māku
Skymark Airlines Logo.svg
Founded 1996
Commenced operations 19 September 1998
Focus cities Tokyo Haneda Airport
Kobe Airport
Naha Airport
New Chitose Airport
Fukuoka Airport
Fleet size 35
Destinations 14
Headquarters Haneda Airport, Ōta, Tokyo, Japan
Key people Masakazu Arimori (President and CEO)
Revenue Decrease ¥86.0 billion (FY March 2014)[1]
Operating income Decrease (¥2.5 billion) (FY March 2014)[1]
Net income Decrease (¥1.8 billion) (FY March 2014)[1]
Total assets Decrease ¥78.7 billion (March 2014)[1]
Total equity Decrease ¥44.7 billion (March 2014)[1]
Employees 2,293 (June 2013)[2]

Skymark Airlines Inc. (スカイマーク株式会社 Sukaimāku Kabushiki-gaisha?) TYO: 9204 is a low-cost airline headquartered at Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan,[3] operating scheduled passenger services within Japan. In addition to its base at Haneda, Skymark is the dominant carrier at Kobe Airport[4] and is the only domestic airline operating at Ibaraki Airport north of Tokyo. As of March 2013, its largest shareholder is CEO Shinichi Nishikubo (30.57%).[5]


Skymark Airlines was established in November 1996 as an independent domestic airline after deregulation of the Japanese airline industry and started operations on 19 September 1998.[3] It was originally established by a consortium of investors led by the travel agency H.I.S. and headed by H.I.S. president Hideo Sawada. The airline incurred considerable losses in its first few years of operations. It briefly considered a recapitalization led by Commerzbank but decided not to accept such an investment due to Air Do's issues with banks interfering in management. In August 2003, Sawada invited internet entrepreneur Shinichi Nishikubo to become Skymark's largest shareholder with a personal cash investment of 3.5 billion yen (having made around 9 billion yen from the IPO of his internet company in 2000).[6]

On 11 December 2003, Skymark announced that it expected a profit of 470 million yen for the half-fiscal year ending on 31 October, the first profit made since the airline began operations.[7]

Skymark operated seven Boeing 767-200 and Boeing 767-300 widebody aircraft between 1998 and 2005. Some 767 fuselages were painted in special "billboard" liveries advertising third party companies, including Yahoo Japan,[8] Microsoft[9] and USEN.[10] Under Nishikubo, Skymark began acquiring new Boeing 737-800 narrowbody aircraft in 2005 and eventually retired the 767 from its fleet in 2009.[11] By using more efficient aircraft and systems developed in-house, Skymark attempted to undercut JAL and ANA on costs in order to offer lower fares.[12]

Skymark had a code sharing partnership with Japan Airlines on the Tokyo Haneda-Kobe route from Kobe Airport's opening in 2006.[13] JAL withdrew from Kobe in 2010, while Skymark developed Kobe into a secondary base.[14] Skymark purchased the naming rights for the Kobe Sports Park Baseball Stadium from 2005 to 2010.

Skymark announced in April 2010 that it would commence a "Narita Shuttle" service from Narita International Airport to Asahikawa, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Okinawa in late 2011 and early 2012.[15]

Shift to premium service[edit]

In November 2010 Skymark announced negotiations with Airbus for an order of four Airbus A380 aircraft and two options, making it the first Japanese airline to order the type.[16][17][18] The airline announced its intent to use the aircraft on long-haul trunk routes out of Narita Airport such as London, Frankfurt, Paris and New York, and that they would be operated in a two-class, 394-seat configuration — with 114 seats in business class and 280 in a premium economy class.[19]

As Skymark began to prepare for international service, it began to face stiff competition from a new group of low-cost carriers in Japan beginning in 2012, particularly from AirAsia Japan (later Vanilla Air) and Jetstar Japan at its Narita base. This led to a reduction in Skymark's frequencies on highly contested routes such as Narita-Sapporo and Narita-Fukuoka, and a refocusing of aircraft on more exclusive routes such as Narita-Ishigaki.[20]

Skymark attempted a more competitive domestic offering by executing leases for seven Airbus A330-300 aircraft in July 2012.[21] Skymark announced that it would outfit these aircraft in a 271-seat single-class premium configuration with 38-inch seat pitch and 22-inch seat width, tentatively called "Green Seats" and comparable to the domestic "Class J" offering on Japan Airlines,[22] to win market share among business travelers on the key domestic trunk routes from Tokyo to Fukuoka and Sapporo.[23] Skymark also had plans to install "Green Seat" cabins on its 737 fleet to create a 2-class configuration[24] but cancelled the plan in early 2014 in favor of keeping a single-class 737 fleet for competition with other LCCs.[25]

Somewhat controversially, Skymark announced that A330 flight attendants would wear miniskirt uniforms, in contrast to Skymark's usual polo shirt uniforms, for the first six months of operation of each route.[26] The Japan Federation of Cabin Attendants publicly complained about the idea, claiming that the uniforms were unsafe to the women wearing them and would lead to harassment and objectification.[27]

Restructuring and bankruptcy[edit]

Skymark's finances were hit hard by foreign exchange rate fluctuations. In February 2011, when Skymark placed its initial A380 order, the Japanese yen was trading at historically high levels of around 82 yen to the U.S. dollar. After the introduction of the Abenomics policy in late 2012, the yen plunged in value, reaching around 102 yen to the dollar in early 2015. Many of Skymark's major investments and expenses were denominated in dollars -- including the A380 orders, the A330 leases and its fuel costs -- while its domestic ticket revenue was in yen, and the airline did not engage in exchange rate hedging.[28] Skymark recorded its first net loss in five years for the fiscal year ended March 2014.[12]

In early February 2014, Skymark announced that it would downsize the Narita operation to only three destinations (Sapporo, Yonago and Okinawa). Nishikubo stated that the base lost money in every month except August and that all LCCs were under pressure there. He also expressed some reservations about the A330 fleet plan, stating that while the airline had funding in place for the first two aircraft, the third and subsequent deliveries could be impacted by the performance of Skymark's domestic operation as well as the success of its initial international service. Skymark planned to re-deploy 737s from the Narita and Haneda bases for charter services to destinations such as Guam. [29]

Airbus completed Skymark's first A380 in April 2014 and sent the aircraft to Germany for cabin installation.[30] In May, Skymark requested to reschedule a meeting with a European bank involved in financing of its A380 order. Airbus interpreted this as a signal that Skymark sought to renegotiate the contract, and sent a team of financial advisors to Skymark's head office in June. After a week of meetings, they proposed an amendment of the A380 purchase agreement, with the condition that if Skymark did not meet a certain revenue target, Nishikubo would be required to sell his shares to an outside investor chosen by Airbus. Nishikubo rejected this proposal in early July, believing there was a significant chance that Skymark would miss the target.[31]

In late July, Airbus announced that it had terminated Skymark's A380 order, citing concerns over the airline's ability to fund the purchase in light of its poor financial performance. Nishikubo complained the airline was not given the opportunity to revise the contract, but simply received a fax notifying it of the termination.[32] After further negotiations, Airbus sued Skymark for damages in a London court; it was reported that Skymark had already paid Airbus 26.5 billion yen for the aircraft and could face up to 70 billion yen in penalties.[30]

Skymark's A330s entered service on the Haneda-Fukuoka route in June 2014, but the additional seat capacity depressed Skymark's load factors on the route. Although Skymark's 737s were booked to more than 80% of capacity up to May 2014, the much larger A330s were only booked at 67% of capacity in December 2014, while ANA and JAL achieved similar load factors with much higher-capacity aircraft. In an attempt to raise revenue, Skymark raised advance purchase fares on the route by 23% in October, bringing them closer to the level of JAL and ANA and further harming the competitiveness of the service.[33]

As the Airbus dispute lingered, Skymark pursued new sources of cash. It announced in November 2014 that it was exploring a cooperative relationship with Japan Airlines under which Skymark's 36 daily round trips to and from Haneda Airport would be code shared with JAL, subject to approval by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.[34] Skymark initially pursued JAL due to a perception that JAL could not threaten Skymark's independence; the terms of JAL's bankruptcy restructuring prevented it from making an investment in Skymark. However, the Japanese government pressed Skymark to make the codeshare trilateral with both JAL and ANA, reflecting the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's preference for ANA. Skymark also attempted a sale and leaseback of over 1 billion yen in equipment as a cash-raising measure, negotiating with a JAL-affiliated trading company and then with an ANA-affiliated trading company. In January 2015, ANA refused to provide financial support to Skymark, and several investment funds also balked at the prospect of injecting cash into the company.[35]

Skymark filed for bankruptcy protection at the Tokyo District Court in January 2015, reporting 71 billion yen in liabilities. It announced that Nishikubo would step down as CEO and would be replaced by CFO Masakazu Arimori.[30] Skymark announced that the A330s would be withdrawn from operation in March, and that various services to Okinawa and Kyushu would be eliminated. In an attempt to regain price competitiveness, Skymark introduced an 8,000 yen fare on the Haneda-Fukuoka route, 1,800 cheaper than the next cheapest competitor, StarFlyer.[33]

Skymark was approached by several potential sponsors early in its bankruptcy proceedings, including ANA, AirAsia, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, with ANA being perceived as the front runner.[36] In April, a deal was announced by which Integral would take 50.1% ownership of the restructured Skymark, with ANA owning 19.9%. ANA's participation had been requested by one of Skymark's major creditors.[37]


Skymark headquarters at Tokyo International Airport
Check-in counters at Kansai International Airport

As of January 2015, Skymark Airlines operated scheduled flights to the following destinations:[38][39]

Country City Airport Notes Refs
Japan Amami Amami Airport Terminated
Japan Aomori Aomori Airport Terminated
Japan Asahikawa Asahikawa Airport Terminated
Japan Fukuoka Fukuoka Airport Base
Japan Ibaraki Ibaraki Airport
Japan Ishigaki New Ishigaki Airport Terminated
Japan Kagoshima Kagoshima Airport
Japan Kitakyushu Kitakyushu Airport Terminated
Japan Kobe Kobe Airport Base
Japan Kumamoto Kumamoto Airport Terminated
Japan Miyako Miyako Airport Terminated
Japan Nagasaki Nagasaki Airport
Japan Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport
Japan Naha Naha Airport Base
Japan Osaka Kansai International Airport Terminated
Japan Osaka Osaka International Airport Terminated
Japan Sapporo New Chitose Airport Base
Japan Sendai Sendai Airport
Japan Tokushima Tokushima Airport Terminated
Japan Tokyo Haneda Airport Base
Japan Tokyo Narita International Airport Terminated
Japan Yonago Miho-Yonago Airport


A Skymark Boeing 737-800 landing at Haneda Airport (2007)
A Skymark Airbus A330-300 at Fukuoka Airport (2014)

As of February 2015, the Skymark Airlines fleet consists of the following aircraft:[40]

Aircraft In Service Orders Passengers Notes
J Y+ Y Total
Boeing 737-800 27 0 0 0 177 177
Total 27 0
Previously operated

Bankruptcy led to the almost brand new A330 fleet of to be phased out, all were on lease.[41]

Frequent flyer program[edit]

Skymark planned to introduce a frequent flyer program in January 2014 to coincide with the launch of its premium domestic service.[22] They delayed as of December 2013 to focus on preparing for international service in December 2014.[42]

Although Skymark did have its own frequent flyer program as of 2013, it has provided award seats to members of the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program since June 2011.[43]


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External links[edit]