Home Airlines & Airliners Japan’s Airline Fleets in the 1980s

Japan’s Airline Fleets in the 1980s

by Matt Falcus
​Japanese Wikipedia user Kouhei14915, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Japan has always been big in aviation.

Despite being roughly the same size as the United Kingdom, this group of islands and its many large cities have relied on air travel as a means of getting around both domestically and internationally for decades.

In fact, Boeing even developed special short range versions of its 747’s just for the Japanese market so that airlines could transport vast numbers of people on these short hops between cities.

Japan has had a number of airlines, both large and small, and many are still around today.

Back in the 1980s, these were the kinds of aircraft, airlines and liveries you’d see flying around Japan.


Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300. Photo (c) Roy Cartledge


Founded in 1951 and operating domestic services with a Martin 202, this private airline had all its assets

assumed by the Japanese government to form a new state-owned airline, with international services starting just the following year. The airline operated a number of Douglas prop aircraft and when it came to the jet age, kept with the Long Beach manufacturer when it took delivery of the DC-8 in 1960.

In the 1980s Japan Airlines was operating a fleet of widebody types like the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The DC-8s continued until the last was retired around 1986.

Domestic and regional services at the time were flown by Boeing 727-100s, which were retired in 1988.

The Boeing 767-200 and -300 were also flown from the late 1980s.


All Nippon Airways


The long-time rival to Japan Airlines is All Nippon Airways, or ANA, which was founded in 1952. Like JAL, it grew through the operation of early piston airliners, followed by turboprop types like the Fokker F-27 and Vickers Viscount in the 1960s.

Gradually ANA entered the jet age with the Boeing 727 and Lockheed TriStar.

In the 1980s the Boeing 727-200 was the main domestic and regional type, alongside the Boeing 737-200.

The NAMC YS-11 turboprop was also used on shorter routes until 1991.

The Boeing 767-200 and -300 arrived at ANA in 1983 and 1988 respectively, while the L1011 TriStar soldiered on until 1995.

The Boeing 747 joined ANA in 1974 and saw the -100 and -200 models flown through the 1980s.


Japan Air Commuter


A regional and domestic airline founded in 1983, Japan Air Commuter was based at Kagoshima and in the 1980s operated NAMC YS-11 and Dornier 228 types.

Today it still operates, with ATR 42 and 72 types.


Ryukyu Air Commuter

This is another domestic airline, founded in 1985 which has had a long association with De Havilland Canada DHC-8 aircraft equipment.

In its early years it flew the DHC-8-100 and -300, and today flies the Q400 variant.


Japan Asia Airways

Communi core by S.Fujioka, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

A subsidiary of Japan Airlines, Japan Asia Airways was founded in 1975 to fly between Japan and Taiwan. This was to circumvent the difficult political situation between China and Taiwan, which led to restrictions on airlines from Japan flying between the countries.

Airlines from around the world, like British Airways, KLM and Swissair, famously created their own ‘Asia’ subsidiaries for this reason.

Japan Asia Airways flew a mix of Boeing 747, 767, Douglas DC-8 and DC-10 types until it ceased operations in 2010.


Toa Domestic Airlines / Japan Air System

YS-11 JA8757 OSA 1977 PAP DIA1

Torsten Maiwald (GFDL 1.2 <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html> or GFDL 1.2 <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html>), via Wikimedia Commons

An independent domestic airline founded as Toa Domestic Airlines in 1975 to link many smaller destinations across Japan that the main airlines didn’t serve. Some international routes were also flown.

It became Japan Air System in 1988, and in 2001 it merged with Japan Airlines to form Japan Airlines Domestic.

During the 1980s, the familiar blue, orange and yellow cheatlines could be seen on types like the NAMC YS-11, Airbus A300B2/B4, Douglas DC-9-40, McDonnell Douglas DC-10-40, MD-81 and MD-87.


Southwest Air Lines

FotoNoir, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1967, Southwest Air Lines (not to be confused with the American low-cost carrier) was a domestic carrier based at Naha and operating throughout the country.

Initially operating NAMC YC-11 and Boeing 737-200 aircraft, it later added 737-400s and 767-200s.

In 1993 the airline changed its name to Japan Transocean Air and adopted a new livery. Today it is a Japan Airlines subsidiary operating domestic flights on its behalf.



Lost Airline Colours of Asia

In this full colour book, author Martyn Cartledge takes you on a journey through the lost airline liveries of Japan and many other countries in Asia.

See the airlines that are long gone, and how the liveries of airlines that still exist looked in the past.

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