BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) on Thursday night welcomed Tokyo as its  24th  destination with the launch of its inaugural non-stop flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Tokyo, Narita.

The connection marks the first time in more than two decades both countries will be connected seamlessly via air linkage — RB first flew to Osaka in December 1994.

In his speech, RB CEO Karam Chand said the significant milestone will promote tourism and trade opportunities and further strengthen the existing strong bond between both countries.

“As the national Airline, we want to play our role by providing the missing link on our new service to a key market such as Japan and be the catalyst to create more opportunities and collaborations between businesses, governments and people.”

VIP guests cut the ribbon at the launch of the inaugural flight to Tokyo Narita. From L-R: RB CEO Karam Chand; Minister of Finance & Economy II Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin; Minister of Transport and Infocommunications Abdul Mutalib; and Ambassador of Japan Motohiko Kato. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

Chand said RB is currently in discussions with AI Nippon Airlines to codeshare on this route and enter in other collaborative arrangements adding that announcements will be made in due course.

In 2016, codeshare flights to Tokyo via Hong Kong was launched with RB’s codeshare partner Hong Kong Airlines.

“We will maintain our codeshare with Hong Kong Airlines and will add a number of other cities such as Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Sendai in Japan via codeshare arrangements with different airlines.”

MoFE Minister cum Chairman of RB’s Board of Directors, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew giving a speech during the launch of the inaugural flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Tokyo Narita. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

Speaking during the launch event, Minister of Finance and Economy II cum Chairman of RB’s Board of Directors YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said the launch of the flight will help support the nation’s ongoing effort to diversify and build a dynamic economy.

“There is a vast untapped market to explore with Brunei as a tourism destination… as a national flag carrier airline, the connectivity that RB provides is paramount in developing the nation’s Tourism sector.”

“Having this route is an opportunity to further expand RB’s overall network with the focus on regional development, in particular, North Asia, as the market is expected to contribute significantly to the capacity of RB’s new fleet.”

The minister said this is part and parcel of RB’s strategic plans to boost revenue and stimulate more passenger traffic into Brunei, including attracting tourists from Japan.

“The numbers are rapidly growing and we hope for the relations between Japan and Brunei Darussalam to grow just as fast.”

Ambassador to Japan, Motohiko Kato was pleased with the commencement of the flight and hopes more Japanese businesses will learn more about potential opportunities for investment in Brunei.

“[Bruneians visiting Japan] can enjoy the beautiful landscapes, different seasons and our renowned hospitality,” he said, adding that there are also many restaurants offering halal options now.

The first flight departed Brunei’s International Airport on Friday night at 12.35am with RB’s Airbus A320neo, a Brunei Tourism special livery aircraft.

“We made a very conscious decision to select [the] A320neo as the aircraft of choice for our markets including medium hail markets like Tokyo,” said Chand.

Ambassador of Japan Motohiko Kato giving a speech during the launch of the inaugural flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Tokyo Narita. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

The cabin features and aircraft capabilities allows RB to pioneer new routes of up to seven hours in duration which were previously the domain of a widebody aircraft.

“The A320 family is becoming the aircraft of choice for new long, thin [long haul but low load] markets and RB is one of the leading airlines to leverage this on the Tokyo route and soon Brisbane and Beijing,” said Chand.

The CEO said last year, 278,100 visitors were recorded to arrive in Brunei by air, adding that RB’s objective is to grow the numbers to half a million visitors by 2021.

“Adding on to the benefit of providing direct connectivity and extensive tourism marketing, Japan’s market with RB’s direct and numerous codeshare flights will deliver an estimated 18,000 visitors by 2021 from a small base of 5,400 visitors from Japan last year.”