Can an all-new airline not only survive but thrive in the highly competitive Asian market, where cut-throat competition seems to go hand in hand with cost-cutting?
That's the bold experiment about to be played out in Taiwan, where newcomer Starlux considers its premium approach to travel will be key to unlocking the duopoly of China Airlines and EVA Air.
The ambitious startup is spearheaded by a longterm Taiwanese aviation executive and former EVA Air chairman Chang Kuo-wei, scion of one of the island-nation's richest families with an estimated net worth of US$1.45 billion.
He may need to dig deep into those reserves as Starlux goes up against incumbents China Airlines (which belongs to SkyTeam) and EVA Air (a Star Alliance member). Starlux is not expected to join Oneworld, at least not in the early stages.
Starlux describes itself as a “detail-oriented luxury airline" with an eye on the premium business travel market, while Chang's sees the upmarket airline being positioned as the "Emirates of Taiwan."
"I want to bring Taiwanese airline brands to the world stage, breaking the stereotypes that we don't have quality carriers, and that Taiwan is notorious for its (poor) aviation safety record," Chang explains.
Starlux Airbus A321neo flat-bed business class
Starlux will begin flying in January 2020 with three Airbus A321neo jets, with delivery of seven more across 2020.
The A321neo aircraft will feature a business class cabin shaped by BMW’s Designworks studio, where eight seats in a 2-2 configuration convert to 82-inch (208cm) long fully flat beds, making Starlux the first of Taipei’s three major airlines to have lie-flat beds on a single-aisle jet.
Each seat will sport a 16-inch HD inflight entertainment screen, and Starlux is also promising "free basic WiFi" for all passengers, with the likely option to pay for a high-speed service.
BMW Designworks is dressing the premium cabin around an elegant palette of classical dark grey with touches of rose gold, while the seat shells are adorned with BMW’s exclusive 'A72 Cashmere Silver' colour for a high-tech touch.
There will be 180 economy seats in a 3-3 layout – each with its own 10-inch SD screen, a USB port and leather headrest.
The first Starlux routes will be to Macau, Da Nang, and Penang, with other Southeast Asia destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand being added across 2020.
Five Airbus A350-900s will join the Starlux fleet from 2021, allowing it to expand its network to the US West Coast, with plans for a dozen of the larger A350-1000s from 2024. Starlux yet to reveal the seats slated for its international fleet.