FOR almost 30 years, Japan Airlines has been whisking travellers to destinations around the world. JAL offers services to 70 overseas and domestic locations and its operations encompass hotels and resorts, travel companies, catering and other leisure-related businesses. The company, founded in 1951, opened its first office in Hong Kong in 1954. The inaugural flight from Tokyo, via Okinawa, was in 1955, and later the same year a direct service between the Japanese capital and the territory was introduced. JAL has 460 staff here, of whom 170 are locally hired cabin attendants who operate on 62 flights a week. Michio Okamura, vice-president and regional manager for Hong Kong and Macau, said: ''Between one quarter and one third of all JAL's business regionally is sourced here, making us the number one sales office outside Japan.'' One of the new benefits introduced for all classes of passengers is the JAL Mileage Bank, which was launched in October. ''It is unusual to give mileage benefits to economy-class passengers on international flights, and so far this move has been very well received,'' Mr Okamura said. The seven daily flights between Hong Kong and main Japanese cities carried 40 per cent of the territory's visitors to and from Japan, he said. Last year, 1.3 million passengers flew between Hong Kong and Japan. However, because of the sluggish economy, JAL recorded 10 per cent fewer passengers flying out of Japan in the first nine months of this year. This led to price wars between airlines operating in Japan, Mr Okamura said. Business in Hong Kong, though, is booming. ''In Hong Kong there are six million [potential] passengers: one third go abroad yearly. Although group business to Japan has dropped by about 20 per cent, due to the appreciation of the yen, our overall business has been good this year, with record sales in August,'' he said. JAL's fleet includes Boeing 767s, DC10s, and the largest fleet of Boeing 747s in the industry. More new aircraft, including B-777s and MD-11s, are planned. Maintaining a modern fleet contributed to passenger safety and operational efficiency, which were the company's top priorities, he said. JAL had a policy of monitoring all aspects of its operations to reduce the impact on the environment. ''In Japan, we are experimenting with different ways of removing paint from the aircraft - a job that needs to be carried out regularly so they can be repainted. ''We have also been flying one unpainted 747 freighter with a polished exterior to evaluate its benefits.'' Since April, a B-747 flying between Japan and Australia has been fitted with automatic air-sampling equipment - the first systematic collection by a scheduled airline. It is part of a global observation project, co-ordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, to measure the ozone layer. In the same month, JAL began painting the UNICEF emblem on its aircraft as a gesture of support. ''We hope this move will increase worldwide awareness of UNICEF's activities,'' Mr Okamura said. JAL is involved in several events to benefit the Hong Kong community. At the annual Sky School in October, more than 200 children, many of them underprivileged, were able to experience the thrill of flying over the territory for one hour as part of an educational programme that included check-in and immigration procedures. ''We also award scholarships to a number of university students from Hong Kong so that they can participate in a cultural exchange held in Japan, together with other students from JAL destinations around the world,'' Mr Okamura said.