The Legislative Yuan’s Transportation Committee yesterday again scrutinized the operations of Far Eastern Air Transport, with several lawmakers expressing their doubts about the airline’s financial situation following a series of incidents.
While the committee was scheduled to review the budget plans of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the Civil Aviation Operation Fund, lawmakers instead focused their questions on problems at the airline, as a minor collision at the carrier’s maintenance hangar last week resulted in damage to an aircraft and a disruption of operations at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport).
The airline canceled 127 flights last month, and the CAA also found that Huafu Enterprise Co, which owns the carrier, has used it as collateral to borrow a total of NT$2.2 billion (US$72.7 million) from several banks.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said that as the airline mainly offers flights to outlying Kinmen and Penghu, canceling flights would affect mainly travelers heading home.
The CAA needs to ensure that the airline maintains normal operations, Lee said.
DPP Legislator Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) questioned whether it was normal for an airline to cancel that many flights in one month and whether it is possible that the carrier will also fold.
Far Eastern has ranked last among domestic carriers for on-time flights in the first three quarters of this year, but the CAA has only asked the airline to improve and has not issued any fines, he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生) said that Far Eastern’s ticket prices are far less than those offered by other carriers, questioning whether the company has money left to maintain its aircraft.
DPP Legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) said Far Eastern is less financially sound than TransAsia Airways, which dissolved its operations earlier this year.
The CAA must be on high alert when monitoring Far Eastern’s business, he added.
“The airline only has eight airplanes in its fleet, which accounts for about 4 percent of the nation’s registered airworthy civilian aircraft. However, the CAA has spent a significant portion of its time and energy overseeing Far Eastern,” Cheng said. “This is unfair to travelers and law-abiding carriers.”
Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) said the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ standards for Far Eastern — both in terms of aviation safety and operations — would be tougher from now on, adding that the airline is not going to do anything without consequences.
Far Eastern has shown that it intends to change the “status quo” by drafting a plan to acquire new aircraft, he said.
“The airline also showed improvement and reliability in aircraft maintenance in August and last month. However, that progress is still not enough,” Hochen said.
CAA Director-General Lin Kuo-hsien (林國顯) said that the airline has this year been fined more than NT$4 million, adding that it could face an additional fine of NT$600,000 to NT$3 million after the agency finishes an investigation of this month’s canceled flights.
The airline’s flight hours have been capped to 1,350 per month, and it has also been asked to step up consumer protection efforts by opening a bank account and depositing an amount equivalent to its revenue, he said.
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