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JAL (Nippon Kôkû) is Japan's largest airline. It was founded on August 1, 1951 with 100 million yen in capital and the technical assistance of Northwest Airlines, which was the largest airline in Japan at the time. Their first flight, on October 25, 1951, was a Martin 202 from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) to Osaka International Airport (Itami), and they also began service to Fukuoka and Sapporo.

JAL was nationalized the next year and pumped with capital that aided its rapid expansion. By 1960, they were operating an all-jet fleet with flights to San Francisco, London, and Hong Kong. In 1967, they flew their first around the world flight, and began the world's first codeshare agreement with Aeroflot. They received their first Boeing 747 in 1970.

By the mid-1980's, while the Japanese economy rode sky-high, JAL was the largest international airline operation in the world. The government sold its 34% stake in JAL in 1987 and the airline is now fully privatized.

JAL now serves 125 cities in 31 countries with 173 aircraft and 16,500 employees, carrying 13 million passengers each year (the aircraft, that is, not the employees). Their market cap is 190 billion yen. JAL also owns several smaller airlines, including JALways, Japan Asia Airways, Japan Transocean Air, JAL Express, J-Air, and Ryukyu Air Commuter. They are headquartered in the truly bigass JAL Building in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Recently, JAL purchased its second-largest competitor, Japan Air System. The two airlines are currently separate, but will be integrated by April 2004. They have also adopted a stunning new paint job, which you can see at http://www.airways.ch/files/2002/0902/003/photo1.jpg .

Sadly, JAL has had several major accidents or near-misses over the past few decades. The famous ones:

  • April 9, 1952: Mokusei, JAL's first Martin 202, crashes into Mount Mihara. All 37 passengers are killed.
  • March 31, 1970: Terrorist Tanaka Yoshimi and seven members of the Japanese Red Army hijack a JAL plane using katana, and order it flown to Pyongyang, where they are granted political asylum. Tanaka is not seen again until 1996, when he surfaces in Cambodia and is arrested. He pleads guilty in 2000.
  • November 28, 1972: A JAL Douglas DC-8 stalls and crashes outside Moscow. 61 people are killed.
  • July 21, 1973: Japan Airlines flight 404, a 747, is hijacked by the Red Army, working in concert with a group of Palestinian terrorists, after taking off from Schiphol in Amsterdam. It is flown to Benghazi, Libya and blown up. Fortunately, the hijackers release all the passengers and crew first, so there are no deaths.
  • September 27, 1977: A JAL DC-8 crashes on landing in Kuala Lumpur. 34 people are killed.
  • February 9, 1982: Japan Airlines flight 350, another DC-8, crashes in Tokyo Bay when the pilot becomes ill. 24 people are killed.
  • August 12, 1985: Japan Airlines flight 123, a 747 in all-coach configuration, loses its tail and crashes into Mount Ogura, killing 520 people on board. It is the worst single-plane disaster in history (although that title might now, arguably, belong to one of the aircraft that crashed on September 11, 2001).
  • March 31, 1993: An engine falls off of a JAL Cargo 747 in Anchorage. (plop)
  • January 31, 2001: Two JAL planes, a 747 and a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, come within ten meters of each other while flying 35,000 feet over Tokyo. The 747 takes evasive action, injuring three passengers.

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