Across the world, commercial planes have been parked on the ground. Airlines have suspended the majority of flights due to plummeting demand; many of those working in the aviation industry have been put on unpaid leave, or even worse, laid off permanently.
During these challenging and uncertain times for airline companies and their staff, it is inevitable that we ponder what flying will be like after the coronavirus pandemic is over. Would the airlines, which we have relied upon over the years, still be there?
Unfortunately, the truth is that no one knows for sure. There are too many factors that are simply unpredictable.
Here in Taiwan, authorities have done a phenomenal job limiting to contain the spread of the virus. But because health measures everywhere else are under different constraints, it is unlikely that international travel will return to pre-coronavirus levels any time soon.
Despite the various difficulties the aviation industry is facing, it can be argued that Taiwan’s aviation industry is in a good position to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Here are three reasons why:
Firstly, it is fortunate that Taiwan’s three international airlines, Starlux, EVA, and China Airlines, were in a healthy financial situation before the coronavirus hit early this year.
EVA Air and China Airlines have been operating relatively efficiently for years and retain sufficient cash. Starlux Airlines, despite only commencing operations right before coronavirus hit, also has strong financial support from its investors, management, and even its own employees.
Contrary to all expectations, the airlines themselves have responded in creative ways to adapt to the current situation, and have turned to alternative ways to earn revenue.
Taiwan’s two largest airline groups, EVA and CAL, have focused their operations on domestic and cargo flights, where demand is surging. For example, they have deployed large international jets to operate short 40-minute domestic flights to Penghu, benefitting both customers and the airline themselves.
Starlux Airlines, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the luxury startup airline’s fan base to sell merchandise and other Starlux-branded products. Recently, Starlux even expanded its incredibly popular online store to a physical location at the company’s headquarters.
But even if the airlines cannot sustain themselves in the long term, the airlines appear to have the government’s backing. For example, the government has pledged to help Taiwan’s carriers obtain loans of up to NT$50 billion if needed.
Such signs of government support suggest that the government is aware of the benefits that Taiwan’s airlines bring to the nation’s business, tourism and hospitality sectors. Therefore, in an event that a Taiwanese airline is at risk of collapsing, the government would likely step in with other forms of assistance.