Design led innovation gets its KIX

Posted on Posted in InPlaneTerms, Passenger Experience, Uncategorized


Design affects lives. Great designs do it in a way which is so subtle and complete that we take them for granted. Look around at the products you use each day, and how they have transformed the way you work and live: your iPhone, the takeaway coffee cup, wi-fi, sunscreen lotion, sliced bread… all examples of design leading innovation.

The concept of design being a pre-cursor to innovation is not restricted to products. At Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Japan, the design of a low cost terminal was the catalyst for creating a whole new era in demand in the Japanese skies.

In 1995, Kansai International Airport offered passengers the choice of over 30 domestic routes. By 2010, however, that number had fallen to just 9 routes. The retreat of the major airlines, namely JAL and ANA, from the domestic market was problematic for KIX on two counts: firstly, a well connected domestic air network was necessary to service the international passenger traffic passing through KIX, and secondly, the domestic routes provided a much needed boost to airport revenues.

KIX needed to find a solution to the decaying domestic network. Prior to the start of the Peach project, the future was looking bleak for KIX. There appeared to be no clear way forward despite the range of options being considered. Amongst the ideas on the table were the purchasing of a new airline and the foray into the Low Cost Carrier (LCC) market. At this time, the LCC market in Japan was non-existent.

In 2010, KIX together with ANA commissioned a LCC feasibility study. On the basis of the investigations, it was clear that the introduction of LCCs in other regions resulted in the creation of “new demand”. For example, in the European market, 48.4 million new passengers travelled by air after LCC emerged in the region, while in the UK domestic market, 24.8 million new passengers jumped on board (see figure below). The experience in these regions was significant enough that, despite no history of LCCs in Japan, the question was being considered: would the introduction of LCC’s have the same effect on the creation of new demand in Japan as it did in other regions?

Source: Civil Aviation Authority, “No-Frills Carriers: Revolution or Evolution?” November 2006

In what constituted a brave move, KIX decided to take a gamble on the construction of Japan’s first LCC terminal. According to Kiyoshi Goto, Executive Officer at KIX:

There were risks involved in the project.  But you’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take… taking the environment surrounding the airport at that time into account, missing the opportunity presented an even bigger risk.

And so, negotiations began with Peach Aviation to construct a purpose-made LCC terminal at KIX. The project presented a number of challenges, most notably, coping with risks associated with:

  1. Pitching the LCC model in an environment which had not yet embraced the idea.
  2. The profile of the target passenger was unclear: who, if anyone, would identify with LCC model?
  3. Keeping the construction costs down in order to minimize debt and allow access to “jaw dropping fares”.

Designing a terminal to address all of the above challenges symbolized a significant change in the approach to terminal design in Japan. The LCC terminal design was targeted to mirror the “cute and cool” image of Peach Aviation and keep construction costs and construction time as low as possible. In the end, the terminal was erected in an unheard of time frame (6 months design, 11 months construction), at the lowest price per square meter of any terminal in Japan.

The Peach Project at KIX singlehandedly changed the nature of air travel in Japan. The successful design and conception of the LCC terminal at KIX allowed the Japanese people to discover a new experience in domestic travel. It opened air travel to an entirely new Japanese market: the cost conscious passenger who formerly did not travel by plane… another subtle yet elegant example of design quietly changing our lives.

Sources: sincere thanks to Kiyoshi Goto-Sama, New Kansai International Airport Company, for the numerous conversations which led to the formulation of this post. Thank you also to Peach Aviation for their permission to publish the above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *