What Is KLM Asia And Why Does It Exist?

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Founded in 1995 to allow KLM to fly to Taiwan, KLM Asia was a subsidiary of Amsterdam-based KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The removal of the royal crown from its livery and the addition of the word ‘Asia’ was to appease mainland China authorities who still regard Taiwan as a part of China.

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KLM set up KLM Asia so it could fly to Taiwan without upsetting china. Photo: Getty Images

To fully understand why airlines like KLM, Air France, JAL, and Swissair did this, you first need to know a little bit about Taiwan’s history and how it came into existence.

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China does not recognize Taiwan

After being put on hold during the Chinese Civil War and parts of China, including Taiwan, being occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, hostilities resurfaced. The communists gained the upper hand in mainland China forcing Chiang Kai-shek and his forces to retreat across the Taiwan Strait. With the war a virtual stalemate, Mao Tse Tung established the communist Peoples Republic of China (PRC), leaving democratic Taiwan to call itself The Republic of China (ROC).

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KLM Asia added Manila to its AMS-TPE route. Image: GC maps

While this sounds like an ideal solution, the problem is that the communist leaders on the mainland have never recognized the ROC and still regard Taiwan as part of a unified China. To this day, China still threatens to invade Taiwan and take its territory back and is only stopped from doing so because the United States has promised to defend Taiwan.

China is more lucrative

With a population of 1.4 billion compared to Taiwan’s 24 million, China and its economy is a much bigger fish than Taiwan. Taipei was still a lucrative route to fly, so when China announced that any airline flying to Taiwan would not be allowed to fly to mainland China, airlines sat up and took notice. Hence the KLM Asia with no crown livery. This legal name change allowed KLM to keep the Chinese authorities friendly by claiming that they did not fly to Taiwan and that KLM Asia was a separate entity.

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Now legally registered in Taiwan as KLM Asia, the Dutch national flag carrier could fly between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). To make the route more lucrative, KLM Asia made TPE a stopover between Amsterdam and Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in the Philippines.

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KLM Asia first flew 747s on the AMS-TPE route before switching to Boeing 777s. Photo: skinny lawyer via Wikipedia

As of 2019, KLM Asia was still operating and had a fleet of seven Boeing 777-200ERs and two Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Because KLM only needs two aircraft for the Taipei to Amsterdam route, the KLM Asia planes are used on other routes, but never to mainland China.

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China Airlines to rebrand

In other aviation news related to Taiwan, the countries national flag carrier China Airlines won approval from the Taiwanese government to rebrand. The problem with the current name is that it is often confused with Air China, a significant mainland airline headquartered in Beijing.
When approval for the rebranding was given this past summer, China Airlines had no comment on the decision regarding when it will happen or what the new name will be.

Have you ever flown on KLM Asia? If so, please tell us what it was like in the comments.

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