By SHOTA WADA/ Staff Writer
November 26, 2020 at 07:00 JST
SHIZUOKA--As airlines around the world struggle to navigate industry turbulence caused by the pandemic, a regional carrier is getting a lift thanks to one of Japan’s national symbols: Mount Fuji.
While Japan's highest summit remains closed to visitors due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Fuji Dream Airlines Co. is managing rock-solid sales on a sightseeing flight that lets passengers enjoy the view from up above.
The special tour has become so popular that tickets sell out immediately almost every time it starts accepting reservations.
Using a chartered plane that can accommodate about 80 passengers, the flight offers panoramic views of Mount Fuji, the Japan Alps, Kurobe Dam and other landmarks for 60 to 90 minutes.
The flight is attracting attention as a popular form of tourism amid the pandemic, even though the travel plan was first introduced in 2010.
It is a welcome boon in a devastating year for the industry, this airline included.
Fuji Dream Airlines was forced to ground all its flights from late April to mid-May due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The number of flights has bounced back to about 80 percent of its original business plan thanks to the government's "Go To Travel" tourism campaign. But the company has still found itself in a tough spot this year, with its load factor hovering at around half of normal--which has forced the airline to put some of its workers on temporary leave.
While global air travel demand is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024, Fuji Dream Airlines intends to make it through the difficult times ahead with its new strategy based on hosting special tours.
When it offered a sightseeing flight for passengers to enjoy the sunset over Seto Inland Sea in mid-October, marking its first anniversary of Kobe Airport service, all the tickets sold out in just 30 minutes.
The airline ran 14 sightseeing flights in the business year ending in March 2020. The flights were only operated for a limited time during summer and for some occasions.
But now it has a total of 65 sightseeing flights planned until March 2021 due to the pandemic, although that includes those that have already landed.
The airline is also offering optional entertainment attractions to passengers on some flights, including visits to a hangar, a cabin training facility and an airplane.
The company is calling on schools in Shizuoka Prefecture through local education boards to consider sightseeing flights over Mount Fuji as an alternative to school trips that have become difficult to conduct because of the coronavirus. The airline received inquiries from about 20 schools, and two schools in the prefecture decided to sign up, the airline said.
The airline hosted a joint event with All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) on Oct. 20 to give a departing airplane a send-off in a show of appreciation to its passengers for helping it through the pandemic.
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