CEO Interview: STARLUX Going Global with Luxury

CEO Interview: STARLUX Going Global with Luxury

DALLAS — Taiwanese carrier STARLUX (JX) has kept it a notch above the pack ever since it took to the skies. Their differentiation is a premium, clean, and state-of-the-art travel experience in the most modern aircraft today.

On the micro eye, a pinpoint dedication to detail is observed at all levels right from an inflight menu based on partner Michelin-star restaurants to crew wear and its very own Galactic lounge at Taipei (TPE). Things look bright from a macro point of view too with the carrier all ready to expand its network.

Service to Los Angeles, in the United States, takes the spotlight that will be flown by their flagship Airbus A350 jet.

In my conversation with Glenn Chai, CEO of STARLUX, I discuss how the airline continues to run itself as a premium brand with its key objective of building a growing network and going hub-and-spoke in the process.

Glenn Chai, CEO STARLUX | Photo: STARLUX

SG: As a relatively new airline, how is your pullout from the pandemic? Where would you say you stand at this very moment?
GC: As the pandemic is winding down, our operations and revenue continue to grow steadily—not just by adding new destinations but also by increasing flight frequencies for most of our routes.

Take our Japanese market as an example, we expanded our Japanese footprint to include daily routes to Sapporo and Okinawa on October 28. For Tokyo and Osaka, we increased the service from once a day to two daily flights. In addition, we fly a double daily service to Bangkok.

The revenue and loading factors also show that our operations are heading in a positive direction. The month-over-month and year-on-year growth rates have been trending upward for seven months in a row; 62% and 752%, respectively, in November. The year-on-year accumulated revenue from January to November increased over two times.

The number of passengers also increased by 80% compared to October. Our Japan routes were a significant contributor to such growth.

How much are you flying compared to pre-pandemic levels?

Our very first commercial flight was launched in January 2020. Covid-19 engulfed the globe almost immediately, and we faced this huge, unexpected challenge.

Nearly three years later, we are finally beginning to see the start of a recovery of the travel industry in Taiwan as the government announced the reopening of the border in October. We are upbeat about the airline’s prospects and continue to expand our flights and capacity.

Compared to this month (December 2022) we plan to increase flights by 64 percent and capacity by 80 percent by March of the coming year. We expect to be operating over 600 flights per month in the first quarter of the coming year and nearly 940 flights by the end of 2023.

Regarding capacity, we anticipate around 120% and 140% growth next March and December compared with this December.

The ever-modern fleet of STARLUX comprising the A321neo, A330neo, and the A350XWB | Photo: STARLUX

STARLUX, as a premium carrier, is a level above a basic full-service airline too. How and where do you control costs and yet keep pricing in range?

We believe STARLUX has become known to be a “boutique airline,” offering high-quality service with the industry’s most advanced hardware and software. To achieve this, it is vital for us to control costs wisely and keep prices reasonable.

We have implemented something called a “rolling schedule review” that enables us to routinely make timely responses for schedule optimization, such as merging two flights into one to gain higher yield or aircraft type change when necessary.

Moreover, we deploy our wide-body aircraft to destinations with high passenger and cargo demand, which has been key to earning additional revenue in addition to passenger airfare.

Starlux F-WWKM Airbus A330-900. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Do you think your pricing will still remain fairly affordable for 2023 and beyond, given the rise in fuel prices and, more so, the political mess?

There is no doubt that the rise of fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine and other geopolitical turmoil presents challenges that the global airline industry will have to reckon with for the foreseeable future.

While the increase in fuel prices will undoubtedly cause short-term pain, making it difficult to maintain airfares and economical operations, it can also serve as a wake-up call, reminding airlines to plan their networks and allocate resources carefully and not expand too rapidly in response to the recovery of the travel market.

With a thorough plan on our network, capacity, and aircraft utilization, we are pretty confident in cost control and further remain our pricing relatively affordable in 2023 and beyond.

How does China’s force on Taiwan affect STARLUX?

Our operations are not affected by developments in China nearly as much as other airlines, as we currently do not fly to China.

GALACTIC lounge at TPE | Photo: STARLUX

Do you aim to perhaps be a transfer airline someday (hub and spoke through TPE) or focus on point-to-point?

Yes, STARLUX aims to step into the transit market by launching US routes. Transit passengers—especially business travelers—who transfer from North America to Southeast Asia are our target customers.

Taoyuan Airport is at an advantageous geographic location within the Asia-Pacific market, and we see much room for its growth. From our hub at the Taoyuan Airport, we can reach most major cities in Asia within five hours, allowing transit passengers to fly to other destinations in North America and Europe.

What are your best-performing routes so far?

Before COVID-19, Japan is always one of the most favorable destinations for Taiwanese travelers. With both-side borders reopening, our Japan routes have
submitted stellar records, and its growth momentum is expected to continue in 2023.

Not only have we added two leisure destinations in Japan – Okinawa, and Sapporo, but we also have increased frequencies on the existing Japan routes including Narita and Osaka to cater to the rapidly growing demand.

Focus destinations on the drawing board for STARLUX? Can we see Europe?

STARLUX will focus on expanding service to the North American market and growing its Asian markets in 2023-2024. With more widebody aircraft scheduled for delivery from 2025 onwards, our next step will be to develop European markets.

First A350 for STARLUX | Photo: STARLUX

The first two of STARLUX’s A350 have arrived. Where would you fly it until it starts flying to the United States (Los Angeles)? What’s next for the yet-to-join A350s?

Our first A350 has already been put into service on the 20th of this month. Before flying to Los Angeles next April, this A350 will fly to major cities in the Asia-Pacific region. The second A350 has been delivered on the 9th of this month.

The Asian routes with the A350 have been announced post this interview and the type will be flown from Taipei, Taiwan to Bangkok (BKK), Macau (MFM), and Tokyo (NRT).

Premium Economy onboard STARLUX |Photo: STARLUX

Would you say you have the best-in-class Airbus A321neo on the market?

STARLUX A321neo is comparatively newer and more advanced than other A321s in the market. We have built both our narrow-body and wide-body aircraft with the same standards, no matter what routes the aircraft may be servicing.

The cabin interior and seating of the A321neo were both designed by Designworks, a BMW company. Economy class seating features bright and natural colors and ultra-thin seatbacks engineered to increase legroom. Every seat is equipped with a high-quality leather headrest, which allows passengers to enjoy restful sleep without bringing their own neck pillows.

A personal entertainment system with a 10.1-inch 720p screen is equipped on every seat. These features are rarely seen in current narrow-body fleets in the market.

Our business class is designed to provide the ultimate in luxury. The seats can be converted into fully flat 82-inch beds. The cushions and privacy dividers between the seats are a stylish dark gray, cashmere silver, and rose gold, designed by BMW, and lend a futuristic, hi-tech touch to the back shells.

Each passenger can enjoy his or her own 15.6-inch 1080p in-flight entertainment system screen. And, of course, free Wi-Fi is available for both business and economy
classes, making the journey as convenient and pleasant as possible.

Meals onboard Economy and Business | Photo: STARLUX

There’s a lot of dedication in all your product offerings, and especially the food onboard. comment? If I’m right, economy passengers get to pre-order their free meal before flying.

Yes, we provide in-flight meal preorder service for passengers in all cabin classes. STARLUX is committed to providing exquisite in-flight experiences to
our customers with the utmost comfort and warmth of hospitality from the moment they step into our cabin.

To give our passengers an exceptional in-flight dining experience, we collaborate with the best of the best from various fields to continually improve our in-flight meals.

We partner with Michelin-star restaurants and offer cross-branding menus. We regularly update the menus to keep the interest of our repeat customers by surprising them with new offerings.

Our exclusive cocktail collection and coffee flavor are also designed by a renowned bar and coffee roastery in Taiwan. On our upcoming long-haul route to Los Angeles next year, we will launch more unique dishes and menu items to introduce exquisite Taiwan-styled flavors to more passengers.

Featured image STARLUX

Europe and Asia Correspondent
Commercial pilot | Flight Instructor | Aviation Journalist & writer.

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