Taipei Times: China Airlines is considered a major national symbol but the company's reputation has suffered in the past because of fatal crashes. What has China Airlines done in recent years to improve the company's image?
Philip Wei (魏幸雄): Ensuring flight safety is the primary responsibility of all airlines. We acknowledge that we have had a poor safety record in the past. However, after years of consistent effort, we've made significant progress.
In terms of flight crew training, we've implemented stricter controls on both foreign and domestic pilots. Recently we started a recruiting program and received about 700 applications, showing that people are regaining confidence and trust in us. We will train the new personnel in Australia for 11 months to help develop their skills, language ability and discipline.
Our emphasis on safety can be seen in our hiring policies. Quite a few carriers last year downsized their staff, including pilots, as the SARS outbreak scared away travelers. To weather the crisis, we offered favorable pensions for employees who volunteered to retire. But we will not cease bringing in fine pilots and crew members even in the toughest times.
TT: China Airlines hired Germany's Lufthansa Technik AG, a subsidiary of Lufthansa German Airlines, to train its pilots and engineers in higher safety standards between 1997 and 1999. What's going on with that program today?
Wei: That three-year consultancy under Lufthansa Technik helped us build a well-organized training system. Now we have a training department and have recruited two retired management professionals from Singapore Airlines to assist our top management in day-to-day responsibility for safety. This is another effort we've made to improve flight safety. However, Rome wasn't built in a day, so we will keep doing our best to help the company overcome its reputation problems.
I think our efforts have paid off somewhat, as we launched a code-share arrangement on May 1 with Delta Air Lines Ltd for a few routes. The code-sharing allows us to further expand our network and provide more convenience to our customers. We had been trying for two years to enter into such a partnership with Delta, as Delta is a large and reputable carrier. The significance of the code-sharing arrangement is that Delta recognizes our safety and service record and is comfortable putting its customers in our hands. This demonstrates that our efforts have not been for naught.
TT: As the nation's largest carrier, what's your view on the opening of direct transportation links with China, something that local and foreign business groups have advocated for a long time?
Wei: The opening of direct cross-strait traffic is a political issue and will be determined by the government, not by the aviation industry. However, this is something the whole industry is looking forward to, considering the huge business opportunities that would follow liberalization.
There are about 1 million Taiwanese businesspeople doing business in China. They constantly go back and forth between the two sides. Their increasing investment in the Chinese market has given a boost to our cargo sector.
We also value China's market potential, given its population of 1.3 billion and its substantial economic growth in recent years. Therefore, lifting the ban on cross-strait transportation would surely benefit the industry.