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A KLM 747 departing Amsterdam. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

European Airline Asian Subsidiaries: Why Did They Exist?

The Netherlands is home to one of the most prominent airlines in Europe. In the skies over Amsterdam and surrounding Dutch countryside, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines aircraft are hustling to and from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. While Delta, Air France, Korean Air and Aeromexico founded the SkyTeam airline alliance, the Dutch airline remains a notable airline within the airline network. In addition, KLM had a special subsidiary for flights to Taiwan. 

In 1995, the Dutch flag carrier founded KLM Asia. Its launch was an attempt to attract mainland Chinese officials who still considered Taiwan as part of China. As a result, the airline removed its signature royal crown logo from seven Boeing 777-200ERs and two 777-300ERs in its fleet to instead put the word “Asia” on the tail. 

At the time, KLM established the airline to fly to Taiwan and avoid compromising traffic rights for flights to its destinations in mainland China. For one of its routes, the special subsidiary operated its aircraft between Amsterdam and Manila, Philippines, using Taipei as a stopover. In addition, the carrier flew from the Dutch capital to Taipei, with Bangkok, Thailand as the stopover.

During this time period, political sensitivities and anxiety existed between Taiwan and communist mainland China. As a result, any airlines flying to PRChinaC were not permitted to fly to Taipei, and any carriers flying to Taipei would not be allowed to serve cities in mainland China. And KLM was not the only major European carrier to have its own subsidiary to serve its lucrative routes in Asia while overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles. 

British Asia Airways 

While KLM operated its flights to Taiwan and mainland China, British Airways also began flights to Taipei in an attempt to enter the lucrative market. In 1993, British Airways founded a new subsidiary called British Asia Airways. The carrier operated a specially painted Boeing 747, with the airline’s “Landor” livery and classical Union flag tailfin, but added Chinese characters. The airlines did not carry national symbols of the national carrier’s livery to operate flights to Taiwan.

The carriers wanted to simply operate their cost-effective routes without expressing their home country’s support for Taiwanese independence. British Asia Airways flew its 747 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Taipei via Hong Kong. However, in 2001, British Airways suspended operations to Taipei, ultimately signaling the end of the subsidiary.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom’s flag carrier decided to retire its 747s, ending a historic era. Additionally, today, British Airways’ aircraft in its fleet sports the modern “Chatham Dockyard Union flag” livery, with the new “Speedmarque” logo.

Benjamin Pham
Benjamin Pham
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