Air Japan, a subsidiary of Japan's aviation conglomerate ANA Holdings, has begun flights between Narita Airport near Tokyo and Bangkok, Thailand.
The new brand operates middle-distance international routes. It positions itself between full-service and low-cost carriers.
At a ceremony to mark the first flight, Air Japan President and CEO Mineguchi Hideki said the company made thorough preparations during the coronavirus pandemic.
The company says the reservation rate for the Bangkok route in February stands at 96 percent. It notes that many of the passengers are travelers from Thailand visiting Japan.
In Japan, the two major airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, are full-service carriers, providing in-flight meals and first-class seats. Low-cost carriers are expanding their presence in the industry, offering lower fares, more seats and fewer in-flight services.
Air Japan says it is focusing on tourists as demand for business travel has shrunk due to the pandemic. It is targeting Southeast Asia, especially Thailand. In 2019, before the pandemic, Japan welcomed more than 1.2 million tourists from Thailand, the most from any Southeast Asian country.
The company has implemented various measures to attract these visitors. While Air Japan only offers economy-class seats, it ensures a comfortable journey for long hours by offering a seat pitch similar to that of full-service airlines, wider than that of low-cost carriers.
Its in-flight meals include Japanese food, which it says is popular in Thailand.
Meanwhile, the Japan Airlines group has launched a firm called Zipair Tokyo as part of its new strategy. Services started in 2020.
The group says Japan Airlines handles middle- and long-haul routes, such as flights to and from Southeast Asia and North America, and its budget carriers fly short routes, including those to China and South Korea.
Zipair aims to pioneer a new segment in middle- and long-distance travel with low prices. It now operates nine routes, connecting Japan with Southeast Asia, North America and elsewhere.
J. F. Oberlin University Professor Tozaki Hajime describes the new brands as "hybrids."
He says Southeast Asia's economy is growing and the region can be a source of large profits. He also notes that the number of visitors to Japan from the region is increasing.
The professor says low-cost carriers are common in Southeast Asia, and new brands need a different business model to attract customers. He says Japanese airlines have a reputation for high-quality services, and that could help to differentiate them from their rivals.