Taiwan may consider deploying military aircraft to assist stranded passengers as an ongoing strike by flight attendants of EVA Airways, the island’s second largest carrier, continues to snarl air traffic.
Taiwan’s Transportation Ministry stressed the plan to use military aircraft to carry affected passengers was not aimed at helping the airline’s management in its negotiations with employees. Rather, it wants to assist passengers caught in the labor dispute which started last Thursday and has shown no sign of a prompt resolution.
Taiwanese papers noted that the army’s C-130 Hercules, a versatile four-engine turboprop medevac and cargo carrier, would be used to ferry residents from outlying islands. The Taiwanese Air Force currently has 19 such planes made by Lockheed Martin in active service.
The C-130s were also used to airlift Taiwanese back home for the Chinese New Year break in February after Taiwanese authorities vetoed applications by mainland Chinese carriers to add extra flights in retaliation for Beijing gazetting a new air route that strayed away from the median line of the Taiwan Strait into the island’s air space.
It is understood that to avoid Chinese spies prying into the island’s military deployment during the ad hoc operation, only people holding valid Taiwanese passports or identity cards will be allowed to board the warplanes.
The Transportation Ministry said it had an obligation to ensure that air services continue for residents living on outlying islands despite the strike, but passengers boarding military aircraft would still need to pay a fare of NT$1,000 (about US$32).
EVA operates 85 international routes, so the ministry said it would also determine how many flights can be taken over by China Airlines or other members of Star Alliance, which EVA is a member of.
Negotiations have stalled as both sides continue to disagree on issues relating to the “free-riders clause” – off-duty attendants can travel on EVA flights free of charge – as well as the appointment of a board director to represent workers, according to Taiwanese papers.
Meanwhile, EVA Airways said it would also start hiring male attendants. The airline expects a big increase in its carrying capacity after taking delivery of six brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
“We have been mulling over this [hiring more male attendants] for a while, as several male ground crew members have expressed an interest in transferring positions to flight attendants,” EVA’s president Clay Sun said. He said the company would try to maintain 50% of its flights in the coming weeks and hoped more attendants would return to work.
It is estimated that EVA has cancelled more than 1,000 flights since the start of the strike, affecting more than 35,000 passengers.