Friday, April 11, 2014

Hello, Goodbye – The Last Boeing 747-400D

ANA - All Nippon AIrways' New Employee Celebration, with ANA's last 747-400D.

ANA – All Nippon Airways’ New Employee Celebration, with ANA’s last 747-400D

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 “fit” 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 “D” 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.

ANA's 1089 new employees all bow to recognize ANA's Senior Executives

ANA’s 1,089 new employees all bow to recognize ANA’s senior executives

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 “Hai!”

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 “New Grad” packages. Clearly a huge market.

The event continued for close to 90 minutes, and concluded with everyone picking up a towel embroidered with “Let’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.

Enthusiastic new ANA employees sign the fuselage of ANA's last 747-400D after its final flight.

Enthusiastic new ANA employees sign the fuselage of ANA’s last 747-400D after its final flight

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.

ANA 747-400D JA8961's nose gear - I gave it a pat to say goodbye.

ANA 747-400D JA8961′s nose gear – I gave it a pat to say goodbye

It was sad to know that this “Queen of the Skies” was on its way to the desert for storage and 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!

Howard in front of ANA's last 747-400D at HND

Howard in front of ANA’s last 747-400D at HND

And on a personal note, it’s been just about a year since my first story was posted on I sincerely want to thank David and the team for letting me join the fun, which has led to my writing for our colleagues at 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?

Howard Slutsken – Senior Contributor

Howard has been an AvGeek since he was a kid, watching TCA Super Connies, Viscounts and early jets at Montreal’s Dorval Airport. He’s a pilot who loves to fly gliders and pretty well anything else with wings. Howard is based in Vancouver, BC.
@HowardSlutsken | Flikr

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