In Japan, April 1 is most certainly not April Fools’ Day.
April 1 is actually the start of the financial year for Japanese companies. And along with this fiscal reset, April 1 is the day that groups of recent graduates begin their careers with a new company, a loyal relationship that may very well be life-long. This unique recruitment culture is called Shinsotsu. Talented students are identified at various institutions. They go through testing, seminars, company visits, and other methods to make sure there’s a solid ’œfit’ with a company’s culture and values. It makes sense. In a culture with a tradition of life-long employment, it’s critical for both the students and the companies to get it right.
The ANA ’“ All Nippon Airways Group has well over 30,000 employees, and on April 1, I was honored to be part of a celebration to welcome over a thousand new graduates to ANA. It was Tuesday morning, and I was quite well jet-lagged after the departure events and inaugural flight on ANA’s new service from Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND). Our hosts shuttled us over to ANA’s aircraft maintenance facility at HND. It’s huge, with seven hangar bays and the ability to service all of ANA’s jet fleet, right up to major ’œD’ checks.
But we weren’t there to look at airplanes. Well, not quite. As we were escorted through the hangars, there was one plane looming in a semi-lit bay. It was ANA’s last Boeing 747-400D (Domestic), registered JA8961. It wasn’t there for maintenance, but to be part of ANA’s New Employee Celebration of Shinsotsu.
We walked to the back of the hangar to be seated behind a remarkably large and perfectly organized group of 1,089 new ANA employees-to-be. The 747 was the ideal backdrop for the event.
Accompanied by a small orchestra, ANA’s senior executives walked to the dais. As each took the podium, the 1,089 new employees all stood up and recognized their new bosses with a perfectly synchronized bow. ANA corporate videos were shown, and the company’s Mission Statement and Management Vision were displayed on the screen, in both Japanese and English. Mind you, I’d wouldn’t be surprised if each of the new employees could already recite the Statement and Vision from memory.
ANA’s executives next introduced the employees who were joining each of the ANA Group’s 26 divisions. As each group was acknowledged, they stood up and identified themselves to their colleagues with a loud ’œHai!’
It was also interesting to see that the new grads were dressed exactly alike in black or dark blue suits and white shirts or blouses, with ties for the guys. But this isn’t an ANA policy, nor was it a requirement for the event. It’s just that new employees in Japan know how they have to dress. When I was exploring Tokyo’s shopping areas on the next day, I saw many clothing stores with special ’œNew Grad’ packages. Clearly a huge market.
The event continued for close to 90 minutes, and concluded with everyone picking up a towel embroidered with ’œLet’s Make History!! ’“ ANA’. First there was a 360-degree photo from the middle of the seating area, and then everyone turned for a group shot by the assembled media. They all cheered, swung the towels over their heads, and the orchestra started playing to end the celebration.
As our Vancouver-based media group walked over to the 747, a small group of new employees was invited to give the plane a send-off. They picked up markers and signed the rear fuselage. It was a nice touch.
I took some time to wander around JA8961. As an ex-ramp rat, I’ve spent a lot of time in, around, and under 747s at Toronto (YYZ). Even though I can explain the aerodynamics of it all, I’m still amazed that this mass of aluminum can get airborne.
JA8961 came into ANA’s fleet in November 1990. The 747-400D (Domestic) was a model designed by Boeing specifically for the short-range Japanese domestic market. Only 19 of the 565-seat models were built, and flown by both ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL). To handle the stresses of countless short-range takeoffs and landings, the -400D had a strengthened wing, fuselage, and landing gear. Over its 24 years in service, JA8961 had 33,751 cycles (takeoffs and landings) from its first flight with ANA until its last on March 31st. Unlike the rest of the 747-400 family, the -400Ds didn’t have winglets. The aerodynamic improvements that the winglets generate weren’t beneficial for short-range operations.
It was sad to know that this ’œQueen of the Skies’ was on its way to
the desert for storage and Tupelo, Mississippi for disassembly. But age and economics have caught up with JA8961 and its four-engine sisters. The -400Ds have been replaced by twin-engine, 514-seat 777-300s on Japan’s domestic routes. I gave 961 a goodbye pat on the nosewheel before we left the hangar.
So, hello to ANA’s 1,089 new employees, and goodbye to JA8961.
Our media group next had a tour and lunch in ANA’s beautiful Business and First-Class lounges in HND’s international terminal. I split off from the group soon after because I had heard that HND had some great planewatching. Like any good AvGeek, I had to explore and find out. You’ll read about my afternoon in the next story!
And on a personal note, it’s been just about a year since my first story was posted on AirlineReporter.com. I sincerely want to thank David and the AR.com team for letting me join the fun, which has led to my writing for our colleagues at Airchive.com and Skies Magazine as well. I hope you’ve been enjoying my stories, with many more to come. A year ago, I never would have thought I’d be standing in front of a 747 in ANA’s hangar at HND. So, for my 1st year anniversary, I figure it’s time to change my byline photo. Nice shot, don’t you think?
VERY NICE PIECE HOWARD!!
btw > Did you catch any episodes of ‘MISS PILOT’? Kinda soapy, but if you like ANA, you would love ‘MISS PILOT’ .. ..
A lot of people giggle at the conformity of the Japanese culture, but after watching all the nuttiness in PA this past week and the way the US TV News Media glorifies/promotes/encourages public violence, I think everyone can take a lesson from Japan .. ..
In the end, everything leads to more harmony (and less waves) in Japan society .. ..
I wish sometimes the US would adopt more of their customs .. ..
KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK,
+1 w/@Sam above.
The Japanese culture is more the foreign to most of us and the idea that one is ‘expected’ to spend a career with a single company is frightening, mostly because some migration is often the only way to advance. (Perhaps the Japanese are satisfied with their original position, but I always craved doing more and, sadly, moving was the only opportunity to advance. Our cultures and objectives ARE different.
As noted elsewhere, the men (does JAL employ *any* female pilots?) who drove these 747-400D machines must be some of the world’s most experienced ‘heavy’ pilots. Most 74x pilots snooze for long hours, while ANA and JAL’s domestic crews fly a schedule more closely matched with North Amerika’s RJ crews; not one three cycles per month, but three or four per working day. They often experience – and fly, and land through horrible weather and so so safely.
Despite a few differences, the 400D is still a 747 and a Very Large Airplane. Replacing it with the 777-300(D?) is smart and those special crews will likely continue to be the best, most experienced in the fleet. I hope that those Big Airplane, Short Route pilots are well paid. IMO their skill is worth a lot more than the guys who fly four long-haul segments (perhaps two landings?) per month on the long routes. Who is the more practiced, more current pilot? Duh? Nearly 34k cycles is simply unheard of for other 744 models; some do not have that many hours. Someplace along those nearly 34k cycles, a few of those “RJ-Heavy” pilots have learned a lot. I know as fact that Boeing has been picking their minds for years and that a lot of their comments/suggestions were incorporated into the 747-8i and -F machines. There are few, if any other pilots who own as many 744 cycles as do the guys that drive – OK, drove – the 747-400D feet for ANA and JAL.
To say that the -400D is enhanced is an under statement. THe improvements to its landing gear alone are enough to permit repeated overweight landings without much concern. When necessary, they just do it (as gently as possible) check a few critical indicators and turn the airplane. As I understand it, most of the essential control functions on the -400D are enhanced and to a degree that individual airplanes were only rarely removed from service for mechanical problems.
Of course, the demanding Japanese domestic market is unique; huge numbers over short distances. The 777-300 can pack almost as many seats and, by any standard costs far less to operate, so why not change them? Eve the capital cost is a relatively quick pay-off. IMO, Boeing ought to buy the -400D with the greatest cycle count. take it to their labs and disassemble it buy the numbers, in reverse order, just to see what a the innards of a 34k cycle airplane look like. What worked, what did not work (and why) and how do we make it better- at a price folks will pay? It won’t cost them much because such a unique airplane has little more than scrap value. (I wonder… can the 400D even ferry to Seattle without a couple of fuel stops? If empty and stripped of seats, perhaps, but the model was not built for long flights.) The engineers at Boeing should not bypass this opportunity to study their own product and of course, after each section is examined to failure, it still retains the same recycling value. Hmm. Sad to see this impressive machine fade away.
Howard, this post is a very cool fusion of avgeek goodness and insight about a foreign corporate culture. Very nice!
That would be “hangars” – not “hangers.” 🙂
Ooops! Thenks, Matt!
Hello Howard…an interesting web-page that you have here. My name is Andrew Wallace. Great to read about the 744D story. Just for your info I was one of the Captains on that last ANA 744D model that was taken into Tupelo. I was involved in many of those last 10 airframes that were retired from ANA into Tupelo. All of those aircraft without exception ran perfectly. Not a snag to be found. All were groomed as though the Emperor was being carried on board. But that is the Japanese way. After my time flying for Wardair on the 747’s in Canada and after the merger with Canadian Airlines, myself and many others went on to fly for Japan Airlines on the 747=100,-200,-300 and finally -400 based initially in Anchorage, Alaska and later Honolulu. I see that you are in the YVR area. That is also my area. A lot of time spent in my hangar with various aircraft at ZBB (Boundary Bay). thanks again…….
are you the Andy Wallace that knew The Peerless’s?I hope you are doing well,Ute Russell,(nee Peerless)