(Flown on April 15, 2016)
For over 15 years, ANA was known within the aviation enthusiast’s community as the airline with Pokemon Jets. Unfortunately, the era has come to an end, and the last remaining Pokemon Jet – PEACE★JET – was repainted into regular ANA colors. Below is a report of my experience of flying on what was supposed to be the last flight of the aircraft in its Pokemon livery.
Pokemon, a franchise well known for its TV show and video games, is also well known among the aviation enthusiast’s community for the ANA Pokemon Jets. From 1998 when the first Pokemon aircraft was rolled out until 2016 when the last Pokemon aircraft was repainted into the regular ANA colors, ANA operated 10 Pokemon Jets. The Pokemon liveries were, over time, applied to five 747s, four 767s and a 777.
While I never had the chance to photograph the first generation of Pokemon Jets released in 1998 and 1999, I had plenty of time to enjoy seeing the second generation – the two colorful Jumbo Jets and the third generation – the PEACE★JET 777 at Haneda and other airports in Japan.
Having grown up watching the TV show and playing the Pokemon video games, the three newest Pokemon Jets – Ohana Jumbo, Pikachu Jumbo and PEACE★JET are very special planes for me. No matter how many times I saw them, every time when visiting an airport, I when visiting an airport in Japan, I was hoping to “catch the Pokemon Jets.” As such, I was very sad to see the two Pokemon Jumbo Jets being retired with the rest of ANA’s 747 fleet.
I was even sadder, however, to learn that the contract between ANA and Nintendo would be expiring at the end of March 2016 meaning the last remaining Pokemon Jet would be repainted into regular ANA colors soon after.
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PEACE★JET: A Project Intertwined with Natural Disasters
The PEACE★JET story started on March 11, 2011 when ANA announced a contest to chose the livery of the next Pokemon Jet. Participants in the “election” lasting from March 13 to March 28 could chose from three designs including the PEACE★JET. Once the livery was chosen, the aircraft would be repainted and would enter service in mid-July 2011.
As you know, however, March 11, 2011 was also the day that the Great East Japan earthquake struck the Tohoku region of Japan, resulting in thousands of deaths, injuries and destroyed homes as well as nuclear meltdowns. Even though ANA started the voting for the next Pokemon Jet on March 13 as planned, as the consequences of the disaster were becoming more and more apparent, ANA also found it inappropriate to continue running the contest in such a situation and it cancelled the contest on March 15.
On May 30, 2011 when Japan was still in the process of recovering the basic infrastructure after the disaster, ANA announced that it has decided to pick the design on its own. It chosen the “B” design from the original three that featured Pokemon showing the peace sign, hence the name PEACE★JET. It was also announced that the first flight would happen on July 18, 2011.
…fast forward a bit more than 4 years, and the PEACE★JET was nearing its end. With the contract expiring, the onboard Pokemon-themed service was ceased. However, it remained unclear when the aircraft would be repainted back into regular colors. Since ANA was no longer promoting Pokemon, no announcements were made. Rumors had it that the aircraft would be repainted sometime in April 2016.
Over time, it became clear that the last flight of the PEACE★JET would be flight NH462 from Okinawa to Tokyo after which the aircraft would be ferried to Osaka Itami airport to be repainted by MRO Japan, a subsidiary of ANA. As I was in Okinawa at that time to catch the Bombardier Q400CC inaugural, I managed to rebook my award back to Tokyo to an earlier flight, to NH462.
The night before the last flight, however, another large earthquake struck Japan. The foreshock to the main earthquake that would come two days later on April 16, 2016 caused substantial damage including damage to the Shinkansen high-speed railway. To help transport people that were stuck due to the disaster, the PEACE★JET had one last mission after its “official” retirement.
Instead of being ferried straight to Osaka after NH462 on April 15, it was ferried to Fukuoka from where it operated a passenger flight to Kagoshima and then on to Osaka Itami marking its “real” last flight. It arrived in Osaka at 8:22PM on April 15, and it entered the MRO Japan hangar shortly after, ending the era of ANA’s Pokemon Jets.
“Oh, look! It’s a Pokemon plane!”
It was shortly after 10AM on April 15, 2016, and I was at Naha airport ready to take my third flight of the day – NH462, the last scheduled PEACE★JET flight, bound for Tokyo Haneda departing at 11:15AM.
Before the Pokemon Jet flight, I did a roundtrip to Kumejima on Ryukyu Air Commuter’s brand new Bombardier Q400CC, flying on the first two flights of this type in the world. Initially, I was supposed to stay on Kumejima for a couple of hours, but after learning about the last Pokemon Jet flight, I rescheduled my trip to be able to make it on the last Pokemon Jet flight. This basically meant arriving at Kumejima, checking-in for the return flight and boarding the same aircraft to return to Naha.
I checked in for my flight to Tokyo in the morning, before leaving on my trip to Kumejima. As such, after arriving from Kumejima, I went straight to Naha airport terminal’s windows which offer nice views of the runway as well as some of the aircraft stands. I stayed there until the Pokemon Jet arrived from Tokyo Haneda as NH463 shortly after 10:30AM.
Once I took some of my last photos of the PEACE★JET, I headed through security to gate 32 where my flight would be departing from.
“Oh, look! It’s a Pokemon plane!” could be heard at airports throughout Japan for many years every time a Pokemon Jet appeared. The same applied for the last flight. There were people ranging from small children to adults that were very excited to see and some of them to board the PEACE★JET.
Twenty minutes after eleven, I headed down the jetway being excited to fly on the PEACE★JET for the second and the last time. Behind me, a little boy was excited and shouting “Look, it’s Pokemon! Look, it’s Pikachu!” all over jetbridge. I was excited for the kid, but at the same time sad inside, knowing what he did not know – that he would not see a Pokemon Jet again. At least for the foreseeable future.
Onboard NH462: The (Almost) Last PEACE★JET Flight
As I stepped onboard the plane, I was welcomed by one of the flight attendants.
Saying “Hi” back to her, I also asked: “Today is the last [flight], isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she replied with a sad tone.
I continued down the aisle, greeting some more crew members before settling into my seat. At 11:25AM, the aircraft doors were closed, and we were ready to depart. The passenger load was very light and so I and the majority of other passengers had a row of 3 seats for myself.
At 11:31AM, sixteen minutes behind schedule, we were pushed back out of gate 32 and five minutes later we started taxiing towards Naha’s runway 36. We stopped a number of times during our taxiing for a prolonged period of time as our arrival at Haneda needed to be delayed due to “congestion around Haneda.”
After taxiing past the countless military aircraft based at Naha, we finally reached the runway end, and at 11:55AM, the PEACE★JET took off from Okinawa airport for the last time.
We started climbing, and clim… We leveled off at an altitude suitable for a skyscraper observation deck, and not for a commercial flight. Only later after telling the story to my friend, I found out that our departure was a standard departure happening when there is an aircraft approaching Kadena Airbase simultaneously to a Naha departure.
Because the Naha Airport runway 36 departure path intersects with Kadena Airbase’s runway 05L ILS approach, aircraft departing Naha are instructed to, in case there is an aircraft on approach to Kadena, level off at 1,000 feet and fly under Kadena’s approach path before being allowed to continue climbing.
While flying at 1,000 feet all the way to Tokyo would have been amazing, within a few minutes of departure, we flew past the Kadena Air Base approach and continued our climb to our cruise altitude of 39,000 feet.
In the meantime, the seatbelt signs were switched off and the flight attendants started with the drink service. I finished my apple juice immediately, and a short while the attendant passed by again, and noticing my empty cup, asked “should I bring you more?” I gladly accepted the second cup, and I continued to relax.
Since it was a short haul domestic flight, the rest of the flight was uneventful and only included sales from the in-flight catalog followed by sales of Hagen-Datz ice cream.
Shortly before starting our descend, one of the flight attendants came to me to apologize for mistakenly filling in a wrong sheet in the log book I handed her earlier and saying that she would bring it to me at the end of the flight.
I was also asked how I knew today would be the last flight, since no announcements were made. She also mentioned only one other passenger onboard knew about it. I said “news spread fast within the community” with the smile, and smiling back she replied she only learnt about the news that morning.
One hour and forty minutes after taking off from Naha, the seatbelt signs were switched off as we began our approach to Tokyo Haneda, the last approach to of the aircraft to Haneda in its Pokemon livery. Overflying Tokyo Bay, we approached runway 34L, and at 1:48PM, the PEACE★JET touched down at Haneda one last time.
Five minutes later, we reached our parking spot. Luckily, instead of a regular gate at the terminal, we were sent to spot 403 – a remote spot. When I turned my phone on, I found a message from my friend saying that there was an extra flight for the PEACE★JET scheduled, and so my flight was not really the last one. While disappointing at first, I was also happy that the Pokemon Jet was able to bring, one last time, at least some happiness to the disaster struck region.
As we arrived at our remote spot, a bus with photographers could be seen outside, capturing forever this memorable moment. After saying goodbye to the crew and disembarking, I joined the photographers in taking photos of the Pokemon Jet from up close.
At some points, I ventured a bit too far from the bus that was waiting for arriving passengers resulting in a warning or two from the ramp agent.
With enough photos and everybody else on the bus, I boarded the bus too and we were taken to the terminal. A nice bonus was driving past an Il-96 of Rossiya resting on spot V1.
After reaching the terminal and a slight panic thinking I had lost my compact camera (it was in a pocket I usually don’t store it in), I headed to the observation deck to wait for the departure of the Pokemon Jet to Fukuoka.
Shortly after 3PM, the Pokemon Jet taxied in front of Haneda’s Terminal 2 one last time, and at quarter past three it took off from Haneda one last time, bringing the era of ANA’s Pokemon Jets to an end.
A Tribute to PEACE★JET
To end the report, below are some of my favorite photos of the Pokemon PEACE★JET.