Taiwanese airline startup Starlux Airlines is down to a single daily flight as the coronavirus outbreak decimates the demand for travel in Asia.
Unfortunate timing for Starlux
When Starlux began, it offered three daily return flights between Taipei and Macau, two daily return flights between Taipei and Da Nang, and a daily return flight between Taipei and Penang.
Now, Starlux Airlines is down to a single daily return to Da Nang.
While flights to Macau have been suspended for some weeks, the flight to Penang survived. But it was announced yesterday that the Penang service was being suspended effective 8 March 2020.
Speculation about Starlux abounds
The dire situation for airlines operating in Asia has raised speculation that Starlux is in serious trouble. Passenger traffic through Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport is said to be down 70% compared to the same time last year.
But as has been pointed out, there is serious financial muscle and airline experience behind Starlux Airlines. No serious airline starts up without worst-case scenario contingency planning and accounting for that.
While the present downturn in travel demand might be charting new territory, airlines have faced unexpected slumps in demand before. 9/11 and the 2003 SARS outbreak are two examples.
Starlux does deal with Sabre
Starlux’s latest deal with Sabre suggests it is hanging around. Starlux has just signed a deal to tap into Sabre’s GDS platform. It will give Starlux access to Sabre’s marketplace and network of 425,000 travel agents.
Glenn Chai, CEO of STARLUX Airlines said in a statement;
“Starlux Airlines has ambitious plans for the future. As we aspire to differentiate ourselves from other airlines in the market and set our strategic vision into motion, it is essential that we partner with industry leaders whose knowledge, expertise, extensive network, local market support and strong market presence will provide us with a clear, competitive advantage within the region and across the globe.”
It is a smart move by Starlux. While aviation is now in a slump, an upturn is inevitable and the airline is placing itself in a pole position to exploit that upturn. Now, it’s a question of how long Starlux (and other airlines) will have to wait.
A brake on expansion plans
The coronavirus outbreak may put a brake on Starlux’s ambitious expansion plans. The airline currently has a fleet of just three A321neos. They’ve gained a degree of notoriety for their lavish fit-out and lie-flat business class seats. Starlux has a further seven A321neos on order.
The aircraft were to facilitate Starlux’s ambitions. They are keen on routes to North America and to grow into one of the world’s top airlines.
It’s a decent ambition. Given the flawless startup and rollout of services, you couldn’t discount Starlux achieving that status. But like airlines elsewhere, Starlux Airlines is going nowhere fast right now.
If the current environment continues, how long this one last service to Da Nang service lasts is anyone’s guess.