STARLUX, Taiwan’s newest airline, lands with a Shakespearean origin story

(CNN) – Debuted with its first flights in January 2020, and Taiwanese start-up STARLUX Airlines may be the first new player in 30 years to raise the island’s duopoly aviation market.

And even before the airline, called Taiwan’s first luxury boutique airline, put its first plane in the air, it has caused a stir.

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

But both aviation observers and the general public are confused for another reason: A succession drama involving STARLUX founder Chang Kuo-wei, which is so juicy that he is referred to as the aviation industry’s “Prince Hamlet” by local media.

Chang Kuo Wei

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

courtesy Starlux Airlines

This Shakepeare tale took root in 2016 when Chang Yung-fa, the founder of Taiwan’s Evergreen Group and the airline EVA Airways, died at the age of 88, sparking a battle over who would take over one of the island’s largest family-run conglomerates. .

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

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

But as the youngest son and only child of Chang Yung-fa’s second wife, Chang Kuo-wei’s promotion ignited a family feud. He was quickly thrown out of the EVA as chairman at a board meeting convened by other family members.

A few months later, he announced that he would launch his own airline – STARLUX Airlines.

“He does not think he is ‘Hamlet'”

Local media have called it a Hamlet-like retaliation plan.

Expectations for the launch of the new airline have grown as both EVA Airways and China Airlines, Taiwan’s two main airlines, have been plagued by strikes and internal conflicts.

But according to the team at STARLUX, Chang is not looking for retaliation.

“He does not think he is ‘Hamlet,'” KW Nieh, STARLUX’s communications manager, told CNN Travel. “This has nothing to do with revenge.”

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

CNN Travel has contacted EVA Air for a comment.

Home grown luxury airline

Starlux Airlines

Local designer Sean Yin is behind STARLUX’s crew uniforms.

courtesy Starlux Airlines

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

The airline introduces a new generation of passenger aircraft, including the A321neo and A350-1000, “both debuting for the first time in Taiwan,” Nieh says.

In fact, STARLUX is the first Taiwanese airline to be equipped with A321neos – all 10 of which will be delivered by the end of 2021. STARLUX signed Taiwan’s largest single Airbus purchase agreement, and purchased 17 A350XWB aircraft in March 2019.

Chang even piloted 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,” Nieh adds.

The interior of the narrow cabin, designed by BMW’s Designworks studio, features sleek seats, leather headrests and on-board entertainment systems across all classes.

Economy-class seats will have a 10.1-inch 720p screen, while business-class seats – equipped with narrow body seats that can be reclined in an 82 ”fully flat bed – will offer a 15.6-inch 1080p entertainment system on board .

Free Wi-Fi with basic access (SMS for economy passengers only) will be offered for both classes on all STARLUX flights – including a first in Taiwan.

Local features abound too. A unique cabin fragrance – with notes of wood, leather and flowers – has been created by the Taiwanese fragrance brand P.Seven. The airline’s crew uniform, which carries themes of retro-futuristic travel in the 40s and 50s, is a product of local designer Sean Yin.

No price war: STARLUX will charge more than the competition

Starlux Airlines

STARLUX positions itself as a boutique airline and aims to conquer the high-end market.

courtesy Starlux Airlines

STARLUX strives to be the Emirates of Asia and also promises to provide premium service.

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

“We consider flying an enjoyable part of the journey,” Nieh adds. “We offer first-class and exquisite services. This sets STARLUX apart from other companies in the market.

“We position ourselves as a boutique airline targeting the higher than the market. We have introduced the most advanced aircraft models with the latest aviation technology and seats. We offer exquisite service items so the fare will be slightly higher than the other airlines. “

According to aviation expert CK Law, senior adviser to the Department of Aviation Policy at the University of China in Hong Kong, this unique positioning is a smart move for STARLUX.

“Many new airlines have taken advantage of the low-cost sector in the market, especially in this part of the world,” says Law.

“It’s definitely the big trend. There should be a reasonable demand for the high-end passenger segment in the market.”

But he expects the new airline will still have an impact on air fares in the long run.

“From the passengers’ point of view, there will be new and significant benefits for them by having new choices and possible new price reductions in the longer term. There will be competition for better services on the plane,” says Law.

Potential cutting competition

Both EVA Airways and China Airlines, the two major airlines in Taiwan, have been hit by strikes in 2019.

Both EVA Airways and China Airlines, the two major airlines in Taiwan, have been hit by strikes in 2019.

PATRICK LIN / AFP / Getty Images

Taiwan has benefited from healthy passenger growth as well as flights in recent years.

Boeing has estimated that Taiwan’s aviation demand will be stronger than Northeast Asia’s annual average – 2% over the next two decades – as a whole.

But is there enough space to accommodate another major airline?

“A new full-service airline will definitely introduce a lot of new competition to a traditional aviation market like Taiwan,” says Law.

“Whether the new airline or even the existing airlines can survive because of this will mainly depend on how fast the market will grow and whether the new demand can absorb or balance with the new supply capacity.

“Otherwise, it could be tough competition and there could be victims.”

One of the biggest questions is: Can a newcomer create a place in the long-distance and transit markets that the two markets STARLUX plans to explore?

“I would expect a good, high load factor to be achieved for the short-term tourism markets, but the long-distance destinations that have [major competition in Taiwan,] would definitely be more challenging, “says Law.

“It will not be easy for new airlines to join a reputable alliance, to begin with. Without being a member of an alliance, it will not 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.

“The development of STARLUX does not depend solely on the Taiwanese market. Taipei has a superior geographical location – you can reach major Asian cities within five hours,” he says.

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

Nieh points to a recent study by the Taiwanese 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,” says Nieh. “We are very confident in this part.”

The first busy ticket sales have been good news for STARLUX.

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

“All 188 seats on each of the three flights.

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

‘A difficult journey’

Chang Kuo Wei

Chang (second from left) steered STARLUX’s first flight from Hamburg to Taipei.

courtesy Starlux Airlines

Grabbing a share of the market is not STARLUX’s only concern.

Construction delays at the third terminal at Taoyuan Airport have forced the airline to build its check-in counters, airport office, maintenance hangars and forecourts 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. Starting an airline is therefore a very difficult journey. STARLUX has first-class talents who understand the unique nature of the industry. It helps to avoid unnecessary investments, which ensures a stable and healthy growth for STARLUX.

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