EVA Air is set to expand its global presence as it has been confirmed to join the Star Alliance, with the process scheduled to be completed next year.
In a ceremony attended by EVA president KW Chang (pictured, right), Taiwanese government officials and representatives of many member airlines today (March 29), the alliance’s chief executive Mark Schwab (pictured, centre) formally announced that the board has unanimously accepted the membership application of EVA.
“EVA Air is a very good fit for Star Alliance as the airline will add many new routes to our global network, with a specific focus on the Far East,” he said. New destinations that are to be added to the Star Alliance network as a result are Kaohsiung in Taiwan and Surabaya in Indonesia.
For Taiwan’s second largest flight operator after China Airlines (a Skyteam member), the new membership not only means the ability to offer its passengers connections to more than 1,300 destinations through 26 other member airlines, including regions previously off limit to EVA such as Africa, but also access to some 980 lounge facilities around the world and more opportunities to earn air miles.
Schwab also pointed out that being part of the alliance can help an airline cope with these days of high fuel costs through joint sourcing. “One of the benefits we are able to offer our members is by pooling our purchasing of fuel around the world,” he said. EVA, on the other hand, plans to save fuel by restructuring its deployment of aircraft as new deliveries arrive.
The airline has 15 B777-300ERs (see a Tried and Tested review of the product here), with further three on firm order and to be delivered from 2014 onwards, and another four under negotiation. The airline says these aircraft will be deployed for the transit traffic anticipated from the mainland, when the US relaxes visa restrictions for China travellers.
EVA has been playing an active role in making Taoyuan airport in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, a transit hub between Southeast Asia and North America, with 45 weekly flights to the latter. EVA president James Jeng, also present at the ceremony, pointed to Mainland China, which has in recent years established direct links with the island, as another major market with potential.
“Unfortunately, those passengers holding mainland passports cannot transit in Taipei. This is the most important issue we need to resolve. We are talking to the government and if this burden can be lifted, Mainland China is a big yard for Taipei,” Jeng said.
The political status of Taiwan, considered by Beijing as a renegade province, has always been a hindrance to its ability to tap into the growing mainland market. Prior to December, 2008, air travel between the two sides was often done via transit in Hong Kong. EVA’s membership to Star Alliance is signifying further improvement in cross-trait relations as it was recommended by mainland’s flag carrier Air China, which is also the mentor airline for the integration process needed for EVA to become a finalised Star Alliance member.
EVA’s six MD-90 narrow-bodied aircraft, together another five operated by its sister domestic airline UNI, will be phased out by 2016 and replaced by A320s and A321s. These will provide capability for the airline to fly or increase frequencies to short- to medium-haul routes, including Sydney, a destination it suspended in 2006.
It seems that the sky is the limit for EVA, as the government of another of its important growth market, Japan, signed an open sky agreement with Taiwan at the end of last year. Other than Tokyo, Taiwanese carriers are allowed to operate unlimited amount of flights to the rest of Japan. The route between two city airports, Songshan in Taipei and Gimpo in Seoul, is also one EVA is eager to cash in on.
EVA was founded in 1989 as part of logistics conglomerate Evergreen Group. It flies to 62 international with 59 aircraft. Last year, it flew 6.7 million passengers and rang in US$3.47 billion in revenues, a 4 per cent year-on-year increase despite load factor having dropped 2 per cent because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Bangkok floods.
For an interview with President Chang from EVA Air, stay tuned.