Far Eastern Air calls on ministry to delay aircraft age limit

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 3

Far Eastern Air Transport yesterday reiterated its hope that the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) would allow the company to delay the retirement of some of its aging aircraft, adding that the company needs more time to ensure a smoother transition.

The company announced that it has agreed to lease two more ATR-600 twin-engine turboprops in the third and fourth quarters of the year, after leasing two of the type last year.

By the end of this year, its fleet is to include four ATR-600 aircraft and eight McDonnel Douglas MD-80 jets, the company said.

The ATRs are to be used on routes between Taiwan proper and outlying islands, the company said, adding that the MD-80 aircraft are to be used for international flights.

The company said it would add Boeing 737 Max or Airbus A321neo aircraft next year and plans to increase international flights.

However, the average age of the MD-80s is 22 years, with the oldest aircraft in use for 26 years.

The ministry is reviewing a proposed amendment to the Regulations of Civil Air Transport Enterprise (民用航空運輸業管理規則) that would force aircraft in operation for more than 26 years to be retired.

If approved, it would have an immediate effect on FAT’s operations, the company said, adding that four of its MD-80s would next year have been in operation for 26 years or more.

As one MD-80 aircraft is under maintenance, the company would have only three at its disposal in 2020, the company said, adding that it hopes the ministry could delay the enforcement of the amendment by at least three years.

Training pilots to operate new aircraft takes time, airline president Joseph Lee (李承仲) said, adding that one year would not be enough.

“The nation is short on pilots.,” Lee said. “Even though we could recruit graduates from flight schools or former air force pilots, they would still need to complete courses, trainings and tests before they are allowed to operate the new aircraft. We could train some MD-80 aircraft pilots to operate ATR-600s, but that takes longer than one year. For the four new ATR-600 aircraft, we would need a minimum of 16 pilots and 16 copilots.”

“We still need pilots who can operate MD-80 aircraft. We would be burning the candle at both ends if we were only given one year,” he said.

The company has 1,200 employees and if more than half of the MD-80s were grounded, its revenue would fall 50 percent, Lee said, which would force out it of business.