EVA Air’s president Austin Cheng on the serious business of bringing comfort, vision – and fun – to the air travel experience
One on One with EVA Air president Austin Cheng. Hotel satisfaction sets a record. Berlin, Frankfurt welcome new meeting venues. Delta Studio takes to the air. Tobacco may power sustainable jet fuel. Online corporate bookings trend mobile. London Conrad Westminster premieres. Air India joins Star. Jin Jiang hotel opens in Yangzhou. Hilton enables mobile room selection. Concur comes to Amazon Appstore. Parking robot Ray bows at Düsseldorf.
One of EVA Air’s enduring images is the Hello Kitty jet. That seems rather lighthearted for an industry like aviation.
CHENG: People ask me quite often,“Why Hello Kitty?”You know, the livery of the aircraft, this is nothing new. But our idea is, it’s not just a livery. We try to create a whole journey, a different experience. We simply think that travel should be fun. So we tried to find a fun character. Hello Kitty, she’s just charming, and so expandable in terms of the marketing. And people, they just love it.
BT: Given her popularity, where do you see Hello Kitty fitting into the EVA Air marketing story?
CHENG: One journalist asked me,“Would you charge the passengers more when they’re sitting on your Hello Kitty jet?”I said,“No, no, no, that’s not the point. The point is, we provide a different experience, a fun experience for our passengers.”
BT: Any airline that puts Hello Kitty on the tail has to think of itself a little differently. What do you believe makes EVA Air different?
CHENG: When we established this new airline, Dr.Y.F. Chang, the founder of Evergreen Group, insisted on introducing a new product. We call it Elite Class which is between business class and economy class. At the time I remember very clearly, senior industry players said,“No, it won’t work. The premium passenger will never downgrade, and for economy passengers, they will never pay more.”But I tell you, today of the top 10 carriers, eight of them are equipped with this kind of premium economy. So the market will tell you the truth.
BT: It sounds like EVA is an airline that’s looking to bring new ideas to the industry.
CHENG: Innovation is always part of our character, I would say. Teamwork, innovation, safety and service – and challenge. We want to be the best service provider airline. And the goal is still there, we’re still pursuing the goal that we set up in the very beginning.
BT: How is that philosophy reflected in your recent membership in the Star Alliance?
CHENG: At EVA, the idea is simple; we want to provide full service for our passengers. That’s why we joined Star Alliance. We need the channel and the network so our passengers can easily travel all over the world. We are not a big airline, so we cannot fly to every single destination. So we have to connect with our Alliance partners.
BT: What innovations are we seeing in your fleet?
CHENG: We just took delivery of three of our second generation Boeing 777300ERs, with the latest version of our inflight entertainment system from Panasonic, and of course it will be equipped with Sky WiFi. And we’ve changed our cabin décor, and will provide different features in the cabin for our passengers.
BT: What will the addition of these aircraft mean for your trans-Pacific routes?
CHENG: Trans-Pacific is quite important for EVA. Nowadays we have 55 flights weekly, and with these new aircraft, we can afford to increase frequencies to North America. New destinations might be Houston, and the second one would be Chicago. It all depends on our aircraft delivery.
BT: What do you see down the road for the industry and for EVA Air?
CHENG: I would say the industry is a lot of fun, but also a lot of challenge. We have to stay aggressive. We cannot withdraw; otherwise we’ll just be out of the picture.You’re going to be abandoned by your passenger. Service and safety is always our focus. We try to position ourselves to accommodate high-end passengers, especially the business traveler. They love our product so we are encouraged to provide even better service. That is how we do this. BT