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Japan-Update

ANA to plow $16bn into new aircraft and technology

Investment will help improve efficiency amid labor shortage

More aircraft will help ANA Holdings expand its network of international routes.

TOKYO -- ANA Holdings will invest about 1.7 trillion yen ($15.9 billion) over the next five years to introduce labor-saving technologies and purchase aircraft needed to expand international service.

The investment target for fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2022, announced Friday, represents a roughly 30% jump from the previous five-year period.

"Aside from purchasing aircraft, we will make strategic investments in areas like cutting-edge technology," President and CEO Shinya Katanozaka said at a news conference that day. ANA's interim business plan through fiscal 2022, released Feb. 1, calls for expanding its international route network and improving technological capabilities.

The Tokyo-based company, the parent of All Nippon Airways, plans to invest 390 billion yen in fiscal 2018 and anywhere from 310 billion yen to 355 billion yen per year from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2022. Excluding the 353 billion yen estimate for fiscal 2017, the company has invested less than 300 billion yen in recent fiscal years. ANA also operates the budget carriers Peach Aviation and Vanilla Air.

Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways' main rival, will invest an average of about 220 billion yen from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2020, according to its midterm plan released last year. Since JAL used public funds to rebuild itself from bankruptcy, the government placed limits on activities like investment until last spring. ANA plans to firm up its lead in capacity and service by outpacing JAL in investment.

ANA will spend around 200 billion yen per fiscal year on aircraft-related investments. In addition to Airbus A380 superjumbo passenger jets, ANA is expected to buy Boeing 777s for use as cargo planes between Japan and North America.

"I want to strengthen European operations since we have received complaints about supply gaps," said Yuji Hirako, president and CEO of All Nippon Airways.

ANA is also actively investing in the latest technologies. "I want to improve competitiveness and the work environment by using such technology as machine translation and robotic suits," said Katanozaka.

The airline is also considering the use of artificial intelligence to assist call centers and self-driving vehicles in airports. In addition, a new training center for pilots and cabin crew will be built.

The challenge is to generate profits amid the spending spree. In fiscal 2022, the last year of its midterm plan, ANA expects sales to grow 27% from its fiscal 2017 forecast to 2.45 trillion yen and operating profit to rise 38% to 220 billion yen. Yet the operating margin would come to 9%, lower than the 9.3% target for fiscal 2020 set in its previous five-year plan.

"We will first achieve an operating profit of 200 billion yen by fiscal 2020," said Katanozaka. "Although that is a slower pace [of profit growth] than in our previous plan, I want it to be understood that growth will be sustained heading toward fiscal 2022."

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