Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Far Eastern plane-pulling pulls in crowds

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A man smiles as he and 49 other people pull a Far Eastern Air Transport Corp aircraft at the Songshan Airport in Taipei as part of the airline's 50th anniversary celebrations.

PHOTO: CHIEN JUNG-FUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Do you know how many people it takes to pull a MD-83 model passenger jet -- one equipped with 143 passenger seats and weighing 45 tonnes?

Thousands of people were eager to find out the answer yesterday morning as they gathered at a facility near the Taipei Songshan Airport to witness the potentially record-setting event.

The move was part of festivities organized by Far Eastern Air Transport Corp (遠東航空), as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this week.

To encourage participation from the public, the company held an online quiz asking people to guess the number of people needed to move the airplane. The company later invited some of the respondents to participate in the event.

At first, fifteen participants were invited to try to pull the airplane. After they failed, another 10 people were added to the team. Again they failed.

After the third try, five people were added at a time. Eventually, the passenger jet moved 5m when pulled by a total of 50 people.

Far Eastern employees, led by chairman Mike Lo (樂大信), also formed a team to pull the airplane. Following the same set of rules, the Far Eastern team was able to pull the airplane with only 40 people.

A man surnamed Kan (), an office clerk in his twenties, told the Taipei Times yesterday that he saw the announcement online and decided to sign up for the event. He said he guessed it would take only 25 people to pull the jet.

"Apparently, we are too weak," he said.

After his team accomplished the feat, Lo said that it is quite tiring to pull because it is difficult to hold the rope firmly. He said that he had thought that 10 people would be enough to pull the airplane.

Lo, however, is ready to take on another challenge.

"Maybe a Boeing 757," he said.

Yet, the biggest challenge Far Eastern is facing in its 50-year history is a shrinking domestic market and the launch of the high speed rail service.

The carrier said yesterday that it was evaluating the possibility of canceling all flights between Taipei and Tainan as the route has suffered continuous losses since the high speed rail opened in January.

Far Eastern president Philip Chen (陳尚群) said they hoped the flights to Tainan could end as soon as possible, though the proposal would need Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) approval.

On average Taipei-Tainan flights are only 30 percent full.

This month, the company decided to reduce Taipei-Tainan flights from three to two per day.

Hanson Chang (張有朋), Far Eastern's public relations manager, said that the customers appeared to be indifferent to the discount scheme the company offered for Taipei-Tainan flights.

However, they reacted warmly to the discount offered for the Taipei-Kaohsiung flights, he said.

Should the situation get worse, the company might even consider cutting the Taipei-Tainan flights to one a day during the Lunar New Year holidays next year, Chang said.

Chang said the operation of the Taipei-Tainan flights may continue if the airport in Tainan could be expanded into an international airport.

Even though the sale of the Taipei-Kaohsiung tickets is going well, Chang said it is only "a matter of time" before they withdraw completely from the domestic airline market.

Seventy percent of the company's revenue is now earned through international flights, Chang said.

Chang also said that it is planning to provide one daily flight to Borneo starting in January.

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