HONG KONG – TransAsia Airways, Taiwan's third biggest airline by fleet size, is reeling from its second major accident in less than a year. The two disasters in quick succession come as the up-and-coming carrier is expanding to become a more formidable rival to its bigger domestic rivals, China Airlines and Eva Air. To keep up with competition from a growing crop of budget carriers in the region, it started its own discount airline, V Air, in December.
HISTORY: The airline was founded in 1951 and was Taiwan's first private commercial airline, initially flying domestic routes. It was originally known as Foshing Airlines. It suspended scheduled flights in 1958 to focus on working as an agent for foreign airlines. Taiwan cement company Goldsun Development & Construction Co. bought it in 1983 and resumed flights in 1988. TransAsia went public on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 2011.
FLEET: The airline operates about 20 planes from its base at Taipei's Sungshan Airport and has been planning to double that with new aircraft orders over the next five years. Half of its current fleet is made up of ATR 72-500 and 72-600 turboprops used on domestic routes and which came into service in 1991. The plane that crashed Wednesday was an ATR 72-600 on its way to Kinmen near mainland China. It also operates Airbus A320, A321 and A330 jets serving short-haul routes around Asia.
SAFETY RECORD: There have been four accidents involving TransAsia ATR aircraft since 1995, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The most serious was last July, when 48 people died after an ATR-72 crashed in the Penghu archipelago in stormy weather. The plane had been carrying 58 people. In Dec. 2002, a TransAsia ATR cargo plane crashed into the sea, killing the two pilots. In Jan. 1995 four people died when another ATR slammed into a hillside. TransAsia's Airbus jets were also involved in three incidents including a crash landing and a hijacking but those did not result in any deaths.
FAST GROWTH: Chairman Vincent Lin, who took over the job in 2010 and whose father heads the airline's major shareholder Goldsun, has been adding new routes at a furious pace. Since the carrier went public in 2011, it has added about two dozen routes to mainland China and other Asia cities from different Taiwanese airports, although a few were later dropped.