Goodbye China Airlines, welcome to Taiwan Airlines? The likelihood of the Taipei-based carrier changing its name inched a little closer this week, continuing a drawn-out process to better reflect its home on the tiny island known as the independent Republic of China, rather than the communist-run monolithic mainland (officially dubbed the People’s Republic of China).
Abandoning any China-based tag in favour of a new and very different name – potentially becoming Taiwan's true flag-carrier – would also reduce long-running confusion at an inopportune moment, when any association with China could prove damaging to both the airline and the country by keeping travellers and tourists away.
Founded in 1959, China Airlines has an extensive international footprint of 160 destinations across the Asia-Pacific, North and South America and Europe.
The SkyTeam member operates a fleet of 88 aircraft including the modern Airbus A350, which is fitted out with a highly-regarded business class cabin.
China Airlines' flagship lounge at Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport is also rather impressive in an elegant rather than 'showy' way.
As a state-owned operation, China Airlines has two competitors: the well-established EVA Air, and the newer boutique start-up Starlux.
The Taiwanese Parliament this week passed a bill to rename China Airlines, saying that the new brand should make the carrier "more identifiable internationally with Taiwanese images to protect Taiwan’s national interests, as overseas it is mistaken for a Chinese airline."
The country's Transport Ministry has been asked to develop both short and long-term rebranding plans, although no timeline has been set.
A spokesperson for China Airlines told Executive Traveller that it had "no comment on this issue".
What's in a name?
There are obviously concerns that any shift in the brand away from China, especially one which embraces the name Taiwan, will provoke mainland China, which has always protested the island-nation's independence and identity, remaining intent on what it calls "peaceful reunification" and the adoption of the same "one country, two systems" policy it has applied to Hong Kong.
While a short-term measure could include aircraft displaying the China Airlines name in a smaller font, suggests Forbes columnist and Asia aviation specialist Will Horton, "next is a longer phase to possibly change the airline’s English translation, rename it in Chinese, adjust the livery or overhaul the design – more options than on a bubble tea menu."
"Taiwan’s national flower, the plum blossom, is already in the China Airlines logo and adorns aircraft tails."
Horton believes that "any mention of “Taiwan” or depicting its island shape or flag are a firm no since they will surely raise objections from Beijing."
"Sceptics doubt any major branding change will emerge, pointing to other failed initiatives over the years. But in the theoretical, a political name is ruled out. That leaves the abstract category."