Taiwan’s New Airline STARLUX Lands With a Shakespearean Origin Story

Launching its first flights in January 2020, Taiwanese start-up STARLUX Airlines could be the first new player in 30 years to disrupt the island’s duopoly aviation market.

And even before the carrier, nicknamed Taiwan first luxury airline, launched its first plane in the air, it caused a sensation.

Eleven minutes after online ticket sales opened on Dec. 16, the Taipei-based carrier sold out all seats on its first three flights – Taipei-Macau, Taipei-Penang and Taipei-Danang.

But aviation watchers and the general public are abuzz for another reason: a succession drama involving STARLUX founder Chang Kuo-wei, who’s so juicy he’s been dubbed the “Prince Hamlet” of aviation. aviation industry by the local media.

Chang Kuo-wei founded STARLUX Airlines after being ousted from his family business, EVA Airways.

courtesy of Starlux Airlines

This Shakespearean story took root in 2016, when Chang Yung-fa, founder of Taiwanese group Evergreen and airline EVA Airways, died at the age of 88, sparking a battle over who would take over one of the most large family conglomerates on the island.

Chang, 49, who had been chairman of EVA since 2013, revealed his late father named him successor to parent company Evergreen in his will.

A beloved figure in the aviation industry, known for his outspokenness and expertise, the son worked for EVA Airways as both an aircraft technician and a pilot.

But being the youngest son and only child of Chang Yung-fa’s second wife, Chang Kuo-wei’s promotion sparked a family feud. It was soon ousted from EVA as president at a board meeting called by other family members.

A few months later, he announced that he was going to start his own airline – STARLUX Airlines.

“He doesn’t think he’s ‘Hamlet'”

Local media called it a Hamlet-style retaliatory plan.

Anticipation for the launch of the new airline has grown as EVA Airways and China Airlines, Taiwan’s two major airlines, have been plagued by strikes and internal disputes.

But according to the STARLUX team, Chang is not ready for revenge.

“He doesn’t think he’s ‘Hamlet’,” STARLUX chief communications officer KW Nieh told CNN Travel. “It has nothing to do with revenge.”

“Because of his passion for aviation, Chang just wants to build an ideal airline that reflects his style after breaking from the shackles of Evergreen Group. He is building STARLUX to meet his late father’s expectations.”

CNN Travel has contacted EVA Air for comment.

Local luxury airline

Starlux Airlines

Local designer Sean Yin is the originator of STARLUX crew uniforms.

courtesy of Starlux Airlines

Whether Taipei-based STARLUX can outperform other major players on the island remains to be seen, but it has certainly upped Taiwan’s aviation game.

The airline is showcasing a new generation of passenger aircraft, including the A321neo and A350-1000, “both of which are making their debuts for the first time in Taiwan,” Nieh said.

Indeed, STARLUX is the first Taiwanese airline to be equipped with A321neos – all 10 of them will be delivered by the end of 2021. STARLUX has signed the largest Airbus purchase contract in Taiwan, in purchasing 17 A350XWB aircraft in March 2019.

Chang himself flew STARLUX’s first A321neo to Taipei from Hamburg last month.

“The fleet will grow to 27 aircraft by the end of 2024 and 50 by the end of 2030,” adds Nieh.

The narrow-body cabin interior, designed by BMW’s Designworks studio, is fitted with stylish seats, leather headrests and in-flight entertainment systems in all classes.

Economy Class seats will feature a 10.1-inch 720p screen while Business Class seats – fitted with narrow seats that can recline into an 82-inch fully flat bed – will offer an in-room entertainment system. 15.6 inch 1080p flight.

Free Wi-Fi with basic access (sending text messages only for Economy Class passengers) will be offered for both classes on all STARLUX flights – also a first in Taiwan.

Local touches also abound. A unique cabin fragrance – with notes of wood, leather and flowers – has been created by Taiwanese perfume brand P.Seven. The airline’s crew uniform, which carries the themes of retro-futuristic travel in the 1940s and 1950s, is the product of local designer Sean Yin.

No price war: STARLUX will charge more than its competitors

Positioning itself as a boutique airline, STARLUX aims to conquer the high-end market.

courtesy of Starlux Airlines

Aspiring to be the Emirates of Asia, STARLUX is also committed to providing premium service.

At a recent press conference, Chang said STARLUX Airlines will not start a fare war. Instead, its tickets will be reasonable but more expensive than its competitors.

“We see flying as an enjoyable part of travelling,” adds Nieh. “We provide top-notch and exquisite services. This differentiates STARLUX from other companies in the market.

“We are positioning ourselves as a boutique airline, targeting the high-end market. We have introduced the most advanced aircraft models with the latest technology and aero seats. We offer exquisite services, so the fare will be slightly more higher than other airlines.”

According to aviation expert CK Law, Senior Advisor to the Aviation Policy Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, this unique positioning is a smart move for STARLUX.

“A lot of new airlines have tapped into the low-cost sector of the market, especially in this part of the world,” Law says.

“This is undoubtedly the major trend. There should be reasonable demand for the premium passenger segment of the market.”

But he expects the new airline will still have an impact on long-term airfares.

“From a passenger perspective, there will be substantial new benefits for them to have new choices and possible further fare reductions in the longer term. There will be competition for better services on the plane “Law said.

Potential fierce competition

EVA Airways and China Airlines, Taiwan’s two main airlines, were hit by strikes in 2019.

PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images

Taiwan has seen healthy growth in passenger numbers as well as flights in recent years.

Boeing estimated that Taiwan’s aeronautical demand will be higher than the annual average for the Northeast Asia region — 2% over the next two decades — as a whole.

But is there enough space to accommodate another major airline?

“A new full-service airline would certainly introduce a lot of new competitors to a traditional aviation market like Taiwan,” Law said.

“The survival of the new airline or even existing airlines will depend primarily on how fast the market grows and whether new demand can absorb or balance out with new supply capacity.

“Otherwise it could be fierce competition and there could be casualties.”

One of the biggest questions is: can a newcomer carve out a niche in the long-haul and transit markets, the two markets that STARLUX plans to explore?

“I would expect a good load factor to be achieved for short-haul tourism markets, but long-haul destinations, which have [major competition in Taiwan,] would definitely be more difficult,” Law says.

“It won’t be easy for new airlines to join a reputable alliance, to begin with. Without being a member of an alliance, it won’t be easy at all to get transit passengers. But it can be a long-term goal,” says Law.

Nieh, on the other hand, is confident.

“STARLUX’s development is not based solely on the Taiwanese market. Taipei enjoys a superior geographical location, you can reach major Asian cities within five hours,” he said.

“Located in a central position connecting North America, North Asia and Southeast Asia, Taiwan has the best foundation to develop as an aviation hub. By introducing and building its hardware and software, Taiwan’s aviation industry will hopefully become Asia’s transportation hub, strengthen its transit services and bring a large number of international passengers to Taiwan.”

Nieh indicates a recent study by the Taiwan government’s National Audit Office, which claims that only 10% of the island’s inbound travelers are transit passengers.

“Compared to Hong Kong, Incheon, Shanghai and Tokyo, there is room for market development,” Nieh said. “We’re very certain about that part.”

The rush in ticket sales was good news for STARLUX.

“Tickets to Macau sold out in six minutes; tickets to Danang sold out in nine, and tickets to Penang sold out in 11 minutes,” said Liwen Liu, director of STARLUX’s corporate communications division. at CNN.

“The 188 seats on each of the three flights.

“We are very happy about it. We had our expectations, but the response was better than we expected,” Liu said.

“An arduous journey”

Chang (second from left) flew STARLUX’s first aircraft from Hamburg to Taipei.

courtesy of Starlux Airlines

Seizing market share is not STARLUX’s only concern.

Delays in the construction of Taoyuan Airport’s Third Terminal have forced the airline to build its check-in counters, airport office, maintenance hangar and aprons with very limited resources, Nieh said.

“The aviation industry is a huge investment and a labor-intensive industry,” he adds. “It is difficult to make a profit, so founding an airline is a very arduous journey. STARLUX has top-notch talents who understand the unique nature of the industry. This helps avoid unnecessary investment, ensuring steady growth and healthy for STARLUX.

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