Mandarin Airlines to introduce ATR planes ahead of Lunar New Year

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Taipei, Jan. 11 (CNA) Mandarin Airlines, a subsidiary of China Airlines (CAL), announced Thursday it plans to deploy its three new ATR 72-600s in the run up to the Lunar New Year, to serve domestic travelers during the holiday traffic surge.

CAL Chairman Ho Nuan-hsuan (何煖軒) said at a celebration ceremony that the group aims to first introduce the planes on routes between Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan and Magong on the outlying island county of Penghu sometime before mid-February to meet demand from people returning home during the Feb. 15-20 holiday.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of services on the Taichung-Hualien, Taichung-Magong and Taipei (Songshan)-Magong routes, Ho said, and the introduction of the ATR planes will increase capacity still further.

"ATRs are perfect for short-haul flights, making our domestic air travel service more cost-effective," Ho said, adding that another six turboprops will be delivered by 2020.

The aircrafts being replaced are Embraer regional jets, which the airline considers economically unviable because they are more suited for flights with a 90-120 minute duration.

Most domestic flights take less than one hour, explained Mandarin Airlines Chairman Hsieh Shih-chien (謝世謙).

To ensure travel safety, ATR sent instructors to assist with pilot training, while maintenance specialists also came to Taiwan to help develop the required maintenance capability, said ATR CEO Christian Scherer.

Ho said CAL initially intended to acquire the ATR fleet of TransAsia Airways, which disbanded in November, 2016, due to financial difficulties. However, the deal did not go ahead because TransAsia refused to allow CAL to carry out an "in-depth check" of the aircraft, he said.

TransAsia had two major air crashes before its closure, both with ATR planes.

An ATR 72-600 crashed in Taipei on Feb. 4, 2015, killing 43 of the 58 people on board. That accident came just months after a ATR 72-500 crashed in Penghu in July, 2014, killing 48 of the 58 people on board.

Human error was cited as the cause of both tragedies, by local investigators.