Today, Japan is well-connected with Russia through non-stop scheduled flights to not only Moscow, but also multiple other cities especially in the Far East. Starting next year, though, getting between the two countries will get even more convenient.
Among other things, numerous new routes will be launched resulting in more than 30% increase in weekly capacity between the two countries. In this article, I will look at the Japan – Russia air travel market closer. I will especially focus on the change in capacity between this winter and the summer of 2020.
Existing Non-Stop Routes Between Japan and Russia
Currently, there are ten scheduled city pair-airline combinations offered between Japan and Russia. Three of those operate daily and the others operate anywhere between one and five times per week.
Naturally, the Japanese capital Tokyo is the Japanese city with the most connections to Russia. At this point, all of the flights leave from the less convenient Narita airport. The seven routes currently in service are operated by three Russian and one Japanese airlines:
- Aeroflot: Moscow Sheremetyevo (daily, 777-300ER), Vladivostok (5 x week, A319, op. by Aurora)
- Aurora: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (1 x week, A319)
- S7 Airlines: Khabarovsk (3 x week, A320neo), Novosibirsk (1 x week, A320neo), Vladivostok (7 x week, A320neo)
- JAL: Moscow Domodedovo (daily, 787-8)
Besides Tokyo, two other cities – Osaka and Sapporo – have non-stop links with Russia as well.
S7 Airlines operates a weekly flight from Vladivostok to Osaka using A320neos. Aurora operates flights between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Sapporo five times a week using Q400s. Ural Airlines will operate three flights a week between Vladivostok and Sapporo in December and January using A320-200s.
Changes Expected to Happen by Summer 2020
While not necessarily with the switch from the winter 2019 to the summer 2020 schedule, a large number of changes are expected to happen in the Japan – Russia air travel market by next summer.
Among other things, both Japanese and Russian airlines will be launching new routes between the two countries and switching airports.
New Capacity on Various Routes
First of all, both of the major Japanese airlines will be launching flights from Tokyo Narita to Vladivostok:
- ANA will operate twice a week from March 16, 2020 using A320neos
- JAL will operate three times a week from February 28, 2020, switching to daily from March 29, 2020, using 737-800s
Second, ANA is also expected to start daily flights between Tokyo Haneda and Moscow Domodedovo. While the schedule and aircraft type haven’t been announced yet, the airline will likely use its 787-8s on the route.
Finally, Aeroflot will be launching flights between Moscow Sheremetyevo and Osaka on June 15, 2020. The flights will be operated using A350-900s four times a week.
Separately from the above, the Federal Air Transport Agency of Russia recently awarded the following air traffic rights earlier this year:
- Aurora: Khabarovsk – Tokyo Narita (7 x week)
- Ural Airlines: Krasnoyarsk – Tokyo Narita (7 x week), Vladivostok – Osaka (4 x week), Vladivostok – Tokyo Narita (7 x week), Yekaterinburg – Tokyo Narita (3 x week)
- Yakutia: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky – Tokyo Narita (2 x week)
While none of the three airlines above have confirmed when (or whether) they will actually be launching the routes and what schedules – and aircraft types – they will operate with, chances are that at least some of them will launch during summer 2020 schedule.
Besides new routes being launched, Aeroflot’s Vladivostok – Tokyo Narita flight which is operated by Aurora is scheduled to go daily (from 5 x week) from March 29, 2020. S7 Airlines’ Vladivostok – Moscow flight is scheduled to operate twice a week (from 1 x week) from July 1, 2020.
No Flights from Russia to Sapporo
At this point, neither Ural Airlines’ flights from Vladivostok to Sapporo nor Aurora’s flights from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Sapporo are available for sale beyond April 2020.
Those flights will likely skip the – for Sapporo – slower summer season and restart in winter 2020/2021.
Tokyo and Moscow Airport Moves
While not having a direct impact on capacity available in the market, three of the airlines currently operating between Tokyo and Russia are expected to move their flights from Narita to the more convenient Haneda airport.
The move will be possible thanks to newly available slots at Haneda airport and will include the following: Aeroflot’s and JAL’s flights to Moscow, and S7 Airlines’ flights to Vladivostok.
In addition its Moscow flights from Narita to Haneda, JAL will also move them from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport to Sheremetyevo. While that will distance it from its oneworld partner S7 Airlines, it will allow it to cooperate with the larger Aeroflot.
Japan – Russia Capacity: Winter 2019/2020 vs. Summer 2020
This winter, once Ural Airlines’ Vladivostok – Sapporo flight starts operating, 7,798 seats will be available between Japan and Russia every week, each way.
Late next-summer, once ANA launches Tokyo – Moscow flights (184-seat 787-8 used for calculation), Aeroflot and JAL go daily on Tokyo – Vladivostok flights, and S7 Airlines goes twice weekly on Osaka – Vladivostok flights, the weekly non-stop capacity between the two countries will be 11,252 seats each way or 44% more than this winter.
Overall, the balance will shift from 83% of the capacity being offered by Russian airlines and only 17% by Japanese airlines this winter to 65% and 35% respectively in the summer. That said, Aeroflot will be able to maintain a 44% share of the total capacity mainly because of its return to Osaka.
Below is a closer look at the two city pairs offering the most capacity: Tokyo – Moscow and Tokyo – Vladivostok.
Tokyo – Moscow
Assuming Aeroflot will keep using the 777-300ER and ANA will use its 184-seat 787-8 on their respective routes between the two cities, the available capacity will increase by 31% from 4,116 to 5,404 weekly seats in each direction.
The capacity offered by Japanese airlines will increase from 32% of the total to 48% of the total. That said, since that capacity will be split roughly equally between ANA and JAL, Aeroflot will – at 52% of the total – still be the airline with disproportionately high capacity on the route.
Tokyo – Vladivostok
With the already confirmed schedule changes on the Tokyo – Vladivostok route, the capacity will go from 1,788 to 3,344 seats, a 87% increase. If Ural Airlines decides to use the recently awarded Vladivostok – Narita rights, the increase will be even steeper.
Currently, all of the capacity between Tokyo and Vladivostok is offered by Russian airlines with S7 Airlines making up 64% of the total and Aeroflot (op. by Aurora) the rest. Next summer, with both ANA and JAL entering the market, 39% of the total capacity will be offered by Japanese airlines.
Will the Increased Supply Be Met with Enough Demand?
With an expected 44% increase in the available non-stop capacity between Japan and Russia overall, one might wonder whether there is enough demand to meet the surge in supply – especially so considering that the increased supply will, naturally, put a downward pressure on yields.
One way to get an indication of that is to look at the number of Russians arriving in Japan and Japanese visiting Russia. It’s important to keep in mind though that the numbers are far from being a perfectly accurate reflection of the demand for non-stop Japan – Russia flights, mainly for two reasons:
- They includes people that didn’t take non-stop flights between Japan and Russia (e.g. those flying Tokyo – Seoul – Moscow)
- They excludes people that flew on non-stop flights between Japan and Russia but connected to other countries (e.g. those flying Tokyo – Moscow – Paris)
While over the last decade, there have been a couple of times where the number of Russian visitors to Japan increased by more than 40%, that was usually following years in which the number dropped considerably or stayed flat.
The number grew at a much more modest 3.8% compound annual growth rate between 2006 (60,654 visitors) and 2018 (94,810 visitors). In the first ten months of this year, 98,066 Russians visited Japan.
As for the travel the other way around, the limited data shows that 101,827 Japanese visited Russia in 2017. While that’s a considerable increase from 139,470 in 2017, it’s also a slight decrease from 105,220 in 2014 – the first reported year.
To better understand the situation, it’s important to – once again – take a look at the two city pairs with the most capacity.
Tokyo – Moscow
Between Tokyo and Moscow, Aeroflot should be able to continue business as usual, serving a mix of passengers connecting to other parts of Europe and of passengers traveling between the Japanese and Russian capitals.
With its move from Domodedovo airport to Sheremetyevo, JAL should be able to capture some additional traffic to what it already attracts thanks to its upcoming partnership with Aeroflot which will allow for connections to other destinations beyond Moscow.
As for ANA, the new entrant into the market, it will become the preferred choice for Star Alliance loyalists. However, connecting opportunities beyond Moscow will likely be limited.
Overall, the 31% increase in capacity between Tokyo and Moscow will likely be sustainable even after the one-time spike caused by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics because of:
- JAL’s partnership with Aeroflot allowing it to offer connections beyond Moscow
- Overall growth of Japan – Russia (and other European countries) demand
Tokyo – Vladivostok
In the Tokyo – Vladivostok market, once S7 Airlines moves to Haneda, it will have an inherent advantage over ANA and JAL which will use the less convenient Narita airport.
As such, it is likely going to be the primary choice for business travelers together with its oneworld partner JAL which will offer daily flights between Tokyo and the largest city in the Russian Far East as well.
ANA, on the other end, will not only have the disadvantage of using Narita, but also of offering very limited schedule. With only two weekly flights – on Mondays and Fridays – the airline won’t be able to offer quick-turn itineraries for business travelers nor weekend trip itineraries for tourists.
Combining ANA’s very cautious approach with the almost-doubling of available capacity between the two cities and thus likely excessive supply, chances are that ANA will be discontinuing the route sooner rather than later (unless it decides to increase the frequency and take JAL head on).
In either case, I would say that the route likely will not be able to sustain the increased supply in spite of the fact that the visa requirements were eased for travel to the Russian Far East.
With business travel demand likely being sufficiently met by S7 Airlines’ Haneda flight, the success of ANA and JAL will likely largely depend on the Japanese travel agents’ (JTB, HIS, etc.) ability and willingness to market tours to Vladivostok. Considering that visiting Vladivostok offers the ability to visit Russia with only a two-hour flight, the proposition for Japanese tourists is certainly strong.
Overall, there is a lot of developments going on in the Japan – Russia market because of:
- Newly available international slots at Tokyo Haneda airport
- Eased visa requirements for travel to the Russian Far East
- 2020 Summer Olympics taking place in Tokyo
With that, both Japanese and Russian airlines are in the process of expanding their network and frequencies between the two countries.
In fact, there is expected to be a 44% jump in non-stop capacity between the two countries next summer. The long-haul Tokyo – Moscow route will see its capacity increase by about a third. The short-haul Tokyo – Vladivostok route will see its capacity almost double. Flights between Moscow and Osaka will be re-launched.
Whether there will be enough demand to meet the increase in supply remains to be seen.
My best guess would be that while the increase in capacity between Moscow and Japan will be sustainable even beyond the Olympics, the capacity to Vladivostok will be adjusted downwards quite quickly – most likely by ANA cancelling its twice weekly flight.