Taiwan’s newest carrier, Starlux Airlines, is set to take off next month, jetting from Taipei to Da Nang, Macau and Penang. Well, big deal, you might say – another day, another airline start-up. But this isn’t another post-millennium ‘where’s my legroom’ low-cost carrier. Starlux Airlines is pitching itself as a boutique luxury airline. That’s a pretty brave business model these days. Crazy brave even. But definitely interesting.
Starlux has been attracting attention for reasons other than its business model. It is the first new Taiwanese full-service carrier in three decades, taking the focus off EVA Air and China Airlines. Additionally, there’s been a full-scale melodrama going on with Stalux’s founder falling out with his family over money and who’s in charge. The family? They own Taiwan’s Evergreen Group who happen to own EVA Airlines.
Starlux’s founder, Chang Kuo-Wei was the former chairman of EVA Airlines until pater familias issues arose. So he walked. He brings to his new airline significant airline experience, having worked not only as CEO, but as an aircraft technician and pilot. Presumably, he isn’t strapped for cash either.
So what should we expect from Starlux Airlines and its January 23rd launch?
Here at Simple Flying, we’ve reported on what passengers can expect onboard Starlux Airlines. The airline will be flying a fleet of ten A321neos. We know these aircraft will seat 188 passengers – 180 passengers in the main economy cabin in a 3-3 configuration and eight lie-flat business class seats in a 2-2 configuration. As we’ve noted, Starlux Airlines is trying to recreate that era when flying was a stylish and glamorous affair, not the commuter grind it is today.
But thinking beyond how Starlux Airlines presents and spins its cabin product, what can we expect?
Three things we can expect from Starlux Airlines
Unlike many airline startups, the man behind this airline brings formidable industry knowledge and experience to the table. You might question the logic of starting a premium carrier when it is contrary to the low-cost carrier norm these days. But Chang Kuo-Wei is no fool. The first thing you might expect is that Starlux Airlines has a solid business case behind it and will survive.
Secondly, Starlux Airlines presents no immediate challenge to either EVA Airlines or China Airlines. Starlux will have ten aircraft flying to three destinations. EVA Airlines has 81 aircraft and flies to around 40 destinations while China Airlines has 88 aircraft and flies around 115 destinations. But as British Airways can attest, little upstarts like Virgin Atlantic can become very wearisome over the longer run.
Finally, don’t forget there is bad blood between Starlux and EVA even before the first Starlux flight takes off. Nipping at EVA’s heels and grabbing market share isn’t just going to be business for Chang Kuo-Wei – it’s personal.
Aircraft on order and growth on the horizon
Starlux won’t be solely flying A321neos for long. They’ve placed an order for 17 A350s earlier this year, made up of eight A350-100s and nine A350-900s and was recently reported eyeing the A330 as another addition to its fleet.
Moving beyond the short term, beyond the initial start-up, if Chang Kuo-Wei’s business proposition is correct, believing there is enough of a full-service premium market on his first three routes to underwrite Starlux’s costs, then Starlux Airlines could in the longer term present a real threat to other full-service Taiwanese carriers.
It is going to be interesting watching a man start up an airline that’s running against the low-cost carrier trend, that seems so counterintuitive. Still, it’s always good to see someone bucking the trend.