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Japan budget airline Zipair starts passenger service despite pandemic

A Zipair Tokyo Inc. airplane prepares to depart from Narita airport on Oct. 16, 2020. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese budget airline Zipair Tokyo Inc. launched passenger services Friday with its first flights between Tokyo and Seoul, commencing operations after a delay of some five months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic which forced the company to switch to moving cargo.

    The twice-weekly passenger flights operated by the Japan Airlines Co. subsidiary between Narita airport, east of Tokyo, and Incheon International Airport near Seoul also came as business travel between Japan and South Korea resumed last week.

    The airline plans to make three round-trip flights per week from Oct. 25 when the winter schedule begins.

    Only two travelers were aboard a 290-seat Boing 787-8 aircraft that left for South Korea Friday morning in the airline's first-ever passenger flight while concerns about the novel virus spread continue to put the brakes on demand for air travel.

    The low-cost carrier initially planned to start its passenger service between Narita and Bangkok in May, adding Seoul in July.

    Instead, Zipair launched commercial operations in June with its passenger jets carrying only cargo to the Thai capital, and to Seoul from September.

    While global travel demand remains depressed, the new budget airline hopes by starting to operate on the Tokyo-Seoul route its reputation will quickly grow.

    It plans to add destinations in future including flights between Narita and Honolulu in Hawaii, a very popular destination for Japanese tourists.

    Noting the company will aim in the long run to extend its services to North America, Shingo Nishida, the company president, told reporters, "We will establish reliable and safe operations so as to become the first low-cost carrier to fly across the Pacific Ocean" from Japan.

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