KW Chang, 42, is president of EVA Airways Corporation. The carrier is owned by logistics conglomerate Evergreen Group that was founded by KW’s father Dr Yung-Fa Chang. Business Traveller met with this unassuming and sometimes disarming airline boss after the official announcement ceremony for EVA Air’s impending membership to Star Alliance.
BT: How do you think the membership will increase traffic to Taipei?
KW: I think with our entry to Star Alliance, the number of passengers coming to Taipei will definitely increase, because it’s not just part of Taiwan, it has a very good geographic position for trans-Asia destinations, like South Asia and North Asia, and even into Mainland China, which is a very key market that everyone is trying to get into. However, because of many political reasons, not everyone can enjoy the China market. Over the years the situation between Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese governments is changing quickly so that’s why we can quickly pass the member election process.
BT: How long have you looked into joining an airline alliance, and why now?
KW: As I remember, some seven years ago we already began studying if joining an alliance would be good for EVA. We took a long time, but I think this is really the time, it is the trend; you can see internationally, airport resources are very tight. You go to all the big airports like Heathrow and Los Angeles and you can see traffic flow is very tight and resources are very right, too. An example is airport lounges… 10 years ago, individual airlines could get their own lounges but now, take a look at Los Angeles – it’s impossible for individual airline to get any tiny space for a lounge; they only block it for alliance members. We think there is no excuse or reason for not joining an alliance, or we would be kicked out to low-level areas. We have a big advantage with the cross-strait business, as this type of service is something foreign airlines cannot join. It’s a unique service and it gives us bargaining power to negotiate with members on our membership.
BT: How about airport resources at your home base?
KW: In Taipei terminal resources are limited, too. At Taoyuan, China Airlines dominates terminal 1 operations, EVA has almost dominated terminal 2. In the future, T2 is still not enough for EVA to further expand, and the airport has construction plans for terminal 3, especially with cross-strait traffic growing very rapidly. We are talking to administrators about our interest in going into T3.
BT: Star Alliance chief executive Mark Schwab talked about pooling the orders for fuel among members to save costs, do you think it’s a good idea?
KW: Of course that’s a good idea, but if you want to achieve this kind of projects it’s not quite so easy… as I don’t know if the fuel vendor will agree or how to distribute the fuel to each member – that needs to be negotiated. But the whole concept is good, as there are 26 members and the fuel demand is quite big, and if we can join together to purchase from fuel vendors, significant discounts can be expected.
BT: Why hasn’t UNI Air, your domestic airline, joined Star Allliance?
KW: Eighty per cent of UNI traffic is inside the island, and Taiwan is very small. I don’t think their joining the alliance would be beneficial to other airlines. And for UNI it would be unfair as they only do tiny island transport, and yet they would have to pay a lot for the annual fee but they would get nothing from the alliance.
BT: Would you think of developing a low-cost carrier?
KW: Recently, I have been thinking about the future of UNI, and one of the options is to transform it into a low-cost carrier serving Asia. But it’s preliminary and we don’t have a decision yet.
BT: We’ve heard that the famous Hello Kitty flights by EVA were your idea – would you share how the idea came about?
KW: This industry is so boring; you see passengers in and out, somebody complains, then there are delays, and somebody going crazy… travel is not easy, not comfortable, you must make people feel like they were sitting in the sofa in your house. It’s about what kind of things make you feel comfortable. Hello Kitty is cosy, and it’s not just for children, it’s for everybody. And it’s not just Kitty, there is her boyfriend Danny – it‘s a whole family. So you put the kiddy onboard, and passengers feel it’s very funny and warm, like you’re visiting your daughter’s house. You must make travel feel like that, and when you do something, when you want to market something, ask yourself what makes you feel calm and comfortable. Hello Kitty as a brand has already been around 30 years, and it’s accepted by everybody like Coca Cola, especially in Asia.
Soon I will paint a B777 into a Hello Kitty plane.
For a review of EVA Air’s Taipei-Hong Kong Hello Kitty service, which includes feline-themed check-in counters, novelty passports and a host of coordinated amenities, look out for the May issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.