It’s still a Letter of Intent, but ATR could have found itself an important new customer in Japan. Start-up Feel Air Holdings signed the LoI at Farnborough Airshow for 36 42s and 72s as it hopes to launch services in 2024. Feel Air further opens up Japan for ATR.
Feel Air, not to be confused with the Norwegian low-cost airline that never was in 2009-2011, is targeting untapped, regional routes and markets in Japan. “Feel Air is using a new operating model of franchise airlines. It will have a number of franchises in the coming years”, CEO Hideki Ide said through a translator in a crowdy ATR chalet.
The first one is Feel Air East, which has been established this month and hopes to start services in spring 2024 out of Tokyo Narita. The plan is to grow a fleet of eleven ATRs in five years, or two each year. For this, Feel intends to confirm the LoI for the first aircraft in April next year.
In December 2023, Feel Air West will be established for the start of first services from Kobe, Kansai, or Toochi from spring 2026 with ten aircraft. Next is Feel Air Central with the first services from spring 2027, to be followed in spring 2028 by North and South. The three franchises will each have five aircraft.
Strong appetite for the STOL
The LoI includes the standard ATR 42-600, the 42-600S short take-off and landing version, and the 72-600. ATR President and CEO Stefano Bortoli said ten of the aircraft could be the -600S, with the rest split evenly or slightly favor the 42-600. Bortoli is most pleased with the interest from the new airline. “Feel Air fills a gap in the Japanese market, where we forecast demand for over 100 aircraft. 36 Aircraft is a big fleet for us.” ATR currently has orders for fifteen aircraft with Japanese customers.
On Feel Air, he added: “Japan is traditionally served by airlines North to South. Feel intends to cover the East to West market, so add new opportunities.” That’s something Ide and Feel Air Holdings President Taiichi Kojima confirmed: “With our franchise concept, we want to support regional economies, trying to get tourists into areas that have not seen much air travel to enhance the network. We want passengers to feel that they are traveling on a bus, on routes that aren’t easily connected on land.” Feel also plans to offer its aircraft for emergency services.
Feel selected the ATR models because they fill all requirements. For example, the 42-600S can operate from ten out of 100 airports in Japan that have runways under 1.000 meters in length.
Feel established only in June
The holding is owned by three shareholders, who have invested ¥83 million of private money into the airline. First plans were initiated three years ago, but then Covid interfered. Ide was not willing to go into details, but the plan was picked up again this year and Feel Air Holding was established as recently as June 23. After three to four years, the holding could launch an IPO, but that’s to be confirmed.
The franchise concept means that all five airlines will operate individually but under the same holding. Kojima isn’t ruling out that at a later stage, Feel Air could operate on behalf of other Japanese airlines. Although there is domestic competition from other airlines, Ide isn’t worried about that. “There is no competition with what we do. The other airlines don’t go where we plan to go.” Even the railway system isn’t available to many of Feel’s targeted destinations.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News and until July 1 2023 in a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.