Under a bright starry sky in Taipei, not far from the bustling skyline, passengers board a Japanese-painted plane for a ride from one international airport to another in Taiwan. But it’s not just another small-jet regional airline.
Upon arrival at Taiwan’s largest international airport, Taoyuan International, passengers are handed red handkerchiefs and asked if they have experienced religious fanaticism at any point. A tourist walking by the departures gate is asked to stand outside and be frisked by three security officials.
Rather than being lumped in with a multitude of other airlines or passengers, this business aviation aircraft is a combination of two traditions: There’s Japan Airlines, the Japan-based fleet of which once graced the sky over Taiwan, and, more recently, regional airline Nanshan Airlines.
Formed in June by merger of Nanshan Airlines and Taiwan’s Angang Air — Taiwan’s sole national carrier — the new airline is fueled by the government’s ambitions to boost domestic air services, say executives at both companies.
“Taiwanese carriers are among the four smallest in Asia, and the government is working hard to stimulate competition,” said Frank Kong, president of Angang Air. “Pilots from Angang Air are trained at Nanshan Airlines in Japan and those from Nanshan Airlines are trained at Angang Air.”
To promote the merger, Angang Air has been conducting promotional flights on the new aircraft, as well as on former Nanshan Air planes, with the goal of achieving yearly sustainable growth of 25 percent. Kong said that there’s also been pent-up demand from international travel.
With 150 seats, the new aircraft is the smallest aircraft the airlines own, but it offers 150 percent more seats than Nanshan Air’s primary aircraft — a Boeing 767-300ER — which can carry about 225 passengers.
Both airlines say their success depends on attracting business travelers, who prefer the smaller aircraft as long as there are ample revenue opportunities. Angang Air said it has been concentrating on second, third and fourth daily flights to popular tourist destinations in Japan and China, and to offer meals to accommodate their changing needs.
Angang Air’s transition into a fully integrated business airline has been going well, said Jin Hyo-tsang, managing director of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which oversees the Asia Aviation Center.
As a result of its operational advantages, Angang Air was able to attract ten more A330 planes in December, in addition to eight Boeing 737-800 jets, which it took delivery of in October. At the end of this year, the combined fleet size will reach 25, with 25 more aircraft to be delivered next year.
Starting in 2021, a few of Angang Air’s planes will be converted to jetliners, led by a Japanese-painted 787-9 Dreamliner, which will replace two Tupolev Tu-204s. Currently, the aircraft are all Airbus A330-200s.
In December, Angang Air started Chinese and English-language services in Japanese and English in Taipei and Beijing, and is looking to expand further by partnering with regional carriers.