Image copyright AFP Image caption Residents in Taipei revel in the city’s reputation as Asia’s “halo city”
The tiny Taiwanese city of Hualien became the first city outside Japan to join a global network of big airlines on Sunday, when the low-cost carrier EVA Air began flying services.
Located on the island of Hokkaido, it’s thought EVA’s Singapore-based subsidiary EVA Air started flying its first flights just after midnight on Sunday.
The new airline joins two others which already serve the city: China Airlines and Eva Air, which is named after the famous musical and one of Hualien’s neighbours, Eva of Burgundy.
So how did Hualien become so big for aviation?
Hualien (pronounced tuh-roh-nee) is one of Taipei’s many suburbs. It is also one of Taiwan’s oldest cities – there’s a theatre there dating back 1,900 years. Hualien is considered a halo city, which means its location is so far away from the rest of the island that it’s a unique and attractive place.
Apart from its proximity to Taipei, the reason why there are a number of airlines flying to Hualien is its location next to South Korea.
The main cities in South Korea (and northern Japan) are almost all on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. In comparison, Hualien has a huge population of visitors from South Korea and Japan.
Image copyright AFP Image caption EVA Group chairman, Shih Chia-meng, says the airline will be the least-costly international carrier
Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and US Airways joined the Asian Regional Air Transport Association (ARATA) in 2003, the group says on its website.
Air Transport World says this grew into the ARATA Alliance in 2012, which became the World Air Transport Association (Wata) in 2016.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Seoul and Taipei’s airports also serve each other
But Hualien’s new airline ties in to a bigger picture.
For years, traditional aviation hubs and their long-haul airports have said it’s difficult to fill their planes.
Traditional carriers such as Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have been trying to revamp their services by offering discount airfares.
ANA, the largest Japanese air carrier, and Lufthansa were unable to fill their planes during the April-June quarter of this year.
Image copyright AFP Image caption EVA Air began flying its first planes just after midnight on Sunday
Meanwhile, EVA is hoping to become the first international airline to source as much of its aircraft supply as possible from Asia, with plans to buy more than 50 aircraft over the next five years.
The EVA Group chairman, Shih Chia-meng, said the airline would be the least-costly international carrier in its region.
The company said all of its tickets for EVA Air’s first flights would be sold for the discounted price of 20,000 Taiwan dollars (TWD$150) – a steal compared to the average cost of flights between Hualien and the major Japanese cities of Osaka and Nagoya.
On its website, EVA Air says flying to Hualien from Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Toronto for less than 23,000 TWD is “another step in EVA Air’s relentless journey to offer free choice and low fares to all passengers”.