EVA Air: In It for The Long Haul

New fleet and offerings make debut

By: Fred Gebhart

New airplane smell. It’s a heady mix of plastics, lubricants, adhesives and metals every bit as distinctive as the smell of a new car and just as alluring. And it’s about to become a standard fixture at EVA Air.

Last month, the Taiwanese carrier accepted the first of 15 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft at an assembly plant ceremony in Everett, Wash. By 2009, EVA will have replaced its entire 747 fleet with 777s, making it Boeing’s top 300ER customer and likely opening new gateways in Dallas and Chicago. The privately held carrier plans to spend about $1.5 billion to upgrade its long-haul fleet to all 777s with new livery and new services in all classes.

EVA’s first 777s will fly Taipei, Taiwan, to London, but U.S. customers will start seeing and smelling the new wide-body aircraft in 2006 or 2007. The initial introduction could be Newark, N.J., to Taipei nonstop, eliminating the current stop in Seattle; followed by Dallas and Chicago, then Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.

“The market is so changeable you cannot make long-range promises,” said Glenn Chai, EVA general manager in San Francisco. “But moving to 777s gives us more flexibility to look for the best time to introduce new aircraft into each market.”

With a range of 7,705 nautical miles, the 300ER also gives EVA the green light to fly nonstop from U.S. gateways to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. The 300ER carries about 50 fewer passengers than a 747 but can fly about 1,900 nautical miles farther.
“Our U.S. passengers are mostly buying Southeast Asia,” said Tim Yang, EVA’s senior VP for the United States, based in Los Angeles. “The 300ER lets us fly those routes with full passenger loads and full cargo loads, unlike the 747. Routes across the Pacific are long and thin, so it is better to fly with more frequency and less capacity. It gives customers more choices and airlines more flexibility.”

Flying the 777 also gives carriers a better shot at capturing customers, according to Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s director of product and services marketing. Most long-haul customers base their flight choices on price, flying time and schedule, he explained.

The 777-300ER is about 20 percent more cost efficient than competing Airbus A340 models, which gives carriers more pricing flexibility. The 777 also flies faster than the A340, which gives 777 flights priority routing and shorter flight times, especially on 14- to 16-hour long-haul routes. Shorter flight time means higher placement on most GDS screens, Tinseth said, and a positive selling point for travel agents. Lower capacity usually means greater frequency for passengers to choose from.

“The 777 is the only family of aircraft that passengers look for and choose in preference to other aircraft,” he said. “The 777 is unique in its ability to attract passengers.”

EVA plans to play up customer preferences for the 777 with new cabin service and competitive pricing, Yang said. EVA will remain a major player in the consolidator market. The company also uses its own Web site to compete with consolidator pricing.

“We always encourage agents to check our Web site,” Yang said. “Our Web fares can be extremely competitive and give travel agents profit opportunities they may not find with other airlines.”

The new aircraft are configured to carry 316 passengers, 42 seats in Premium Laurel (first class), 63 in Elite (an upgraded Evergreen Deluxe) and 211 in economy class. Expect heavy demand for Elite seats, introduced in 1992 as a fourth value-priced class between business and economy.

The revamped Elite class offers business-class seats, 18.5 inches wide with 38-inch pitch. That compares to 22-inch seats and 61-inch pitch in Laurel and 18.3-inch seats with 33-inch pitch in Economy. All three 777 classes have audio/video on-demand, satellite communications and air-to-ground Short Message Service (SMS) in English or Chinese.

The new airplane smell is free.