Weight Concerns Meant Japan Airlines Needed Extra Flights To Sumo Wrestler Festival

The special passengers were approximately 50kg heavier than average. In the world of aviation, an aircraft’s weight and fuel load form a delicate equilibrium, as, generally speaking, heavier planes will require more fuel to traverse a given route. We are all familiar with the difficulties posed by overweight baggage, but, in Japan, the weight of certain passengers recently posed fuel concerns.

Specifically, as reported by The Guardian, the presence of sumo wrestlers on Japan Airlines’ domestic flights prompted the one world member to rethink its operations over weight concerns. Last week, dozens of sumo wrestlers were scheduled to fly with the carrier from Osaka Itami Airport (ITM) and Tokyo Haneda (HND).

Their destination was Amami Airport (ASJ), which serves the island of Amami Ōshima, to the country’s south. The reason for their travel was to compete in a sports festival on the island, but this proved not to be the most straightforward journey. This is because they weighed in at an average of 120kg, compared to the 70kg figure that The Guardian lists for the average Japanese citizen.

When Japan Airlines’ staff learned of the hefty athletes’ presence on its domestic flights last week, concerns were raised regarding fuel capacity on the flights that they were scheduled to take. After all, with each sumo wrestler adding an average of 50kg to the plane’s load, this had the potential to have significant fuel ramifications.

Extra flights added

According to First Post, the flights were scheduled to be operated by Boeing 737-800s. Given that JAL has plenty of widebodies in its fleet, and the fact that twin-aisle jets often see domestic service in the country, you might have thought that larger aircraft could simply be deployed. However, First Post notes that Amami’s short runway rendered this impossible. As such, a new solution was required.

JAL eventually opted to schedule an additional flight from Tokyo to Amami, in order to spread the weight of the traveling sumo wrestlers across multiple aircraft. 27 of the athletes ultimately traveled onboard this extra service, including 14 who had to fly in from Osaka to Tokyo in order to catch the special flight.

Times Now News notes that extra flights were also arranged to transport the sumo wrestlers home after the tournament’s conclusion on Sunday. Of course, their presence will have been less of a surprise to Japan Airlines’ operational teams than on the outbound leg. A spokesperson for Japan Airlines told Simple Flying that:

“In the case of the Boeing 737 and the large number of sports athletes reserved, it was discovered that the maximum takeoff weight would be exceeded, and the aircraft could not take off without offloading passengers. Therefore, it was necessary to arrange for the passengers to be transferred as follows:

1) 12Oct JL2465 Itami – Amami: 14 passengers transferred to JL4677 Haneda – Amami (extra flight). 2) 12 Oct JL659 Haneda – Amami: 13 passengers transferred to JL4677 Haneda – Amami (extra flight). 3) 15Oct JL658 Amami – Haneda: 52 passengers transferred to a Fukuoka – Haneda flight.”

Not the only carrier flying to Amami

As it happens, Japan Airlines isn’t the only operator that flies from Osaka and Tokyo to Amami. Indeed, it also faces low-cost competition from ANA subsidiary Peach Aviation. However, whether this carrier also had to make special arrangements for the event is unclear. In any case, the situation last week will surely be a useful learning point for Japan Airlines when transporting sumo wrestlers in the future.

What do you make of this situation? Have you ever heard of extra flights being scheduled to fuel concerns based on passengers’ weight? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!