Why Are Some KLM Planes Branded As “KLM Asia?”

Why Are Some KLM Planes Branded As “KLM Asia?”

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When you look at most KLM planes, you’ll see the name “KLM Royal Dutch Airlines” written near the front of the aircraft, and the word “KLM” written on the tail, with a crown above it. However, did you know that some KLM Boeing 777 aircraft have a different livery, which reads “KLM Asia,” and has no crown, and no “Royal Dutch Airlines” branding?

I realized I’ve never written about this topic before, so I figured it would be interesting to discuss (and I only thought of this because a friend sent me a picture yesterday of a KLM Asia aircraft that he saw, and he was understandably confused).

The interesting history of KLM Asia

Long story short, the reason that some KLM aircraft have KLM Asia branding involves the decades-long dispute between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (mainland China). KLM Asia was formed in 1995 as a wholly owned subsidiary of KLM, registered in Taiwan.

At the time, the People’s Republic of China imposed major sanctions against countries that recognized Taiwan. Among those was that airlines that flew to Taiwan couldn’t also serve mainland China, in addition to flights to Taiwan needing to avoid mainland China’s airspace.

However, the country allowed a loophole, whereby airlines could set up wholly owned subsidiaries that they’d use for flying to Taiwan, as long as those same aircraft didn’t also fly to mainland China. So that’s exactly what KLM did, by setting up KLM Asia — those KLM Asia planes could be used to fly to Taiwan and any destination other than mainland China, while the “regular” KLM planes could fly to mainland China.

From a passenger experience standpoint, these planes were always identical to other KLM aircraft, as they had the same seats, service, crews, etc. The difference was purely a technicality.

KLM wasn’t the only airline to do this at the time, as carriers like Air France and Swissair also set up subsidiaries. However, those subsidiaries aren’t maintained anymore, either because the airlines no longer fly to Taiwan, or because they’re no longer in business. KLM is the only European airline to still have such a subsidiary.

Some KLM Boeing 777s don’t have the standard livery

Is KLM Asia still needed nowadays?

While in many ways tension between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China is as high as ever, in terms of aviation, we’ve seen many restrictions lifted. Nowadays airlines can fly between Taiwan and mainland China without issue, so airlines don’t actually need to maintain subsidiaries anymore in order to serve both mainland China and Taiwan.

Nonetheless, I believe KLM currently has nine Boeing 777s that have the KLM Asia branding, and you’ll find them operating routes globally. Nowadays, KLM operates 4-5x weekly flights between Amsterdam and Taipei, which is the extent of the carrier’s service to Taiwan.

Frankly I’m not sure why KLM maintains its KLM Asia subsidiary nowadays, since it doesn’t serve much purpose anymore. Is it maintained because it would be more effort to get rid of it? Is it maintained to reflect the carrier’s large network to Asia? Is it maintained in the event that similar restrictions are introduced in the future? I always like think that OMAAT readers collectively know just about everything, so I’m curious if anyone has any insights on that.

The standard KLM Boeing 777 livery

Bottom line

KLM has several long haul aircraft with KLM Asia branding. This started in the 1990s, when KLM set up a subsidiary in Taiwan, as the People’s Republic of China banned airlines that also served the Republic of China. The easy workaround was to set up a subsidiary used for Taiwan flights, while serving mainland China with “mainline” aircraft.

While those restrictions are no longer in place, KLM continues with the KLM Asia on some 777s. Those planes fly globally, and are just like other KLM aircraft in every way, from the interiors, to the crews, to the service.

Have you flown on one of these KLM Asia aircraft?

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  1. justin Guest

    They should retire it alongside the 777-200s that they plan to retire

  2. Jim Guest

    Is the Port of Kaohsiung not supported by International flights on Taiwan?

  3. MetsNomad Guest

    Both times I ever flew KLM were on KLM Asia Aircraft. The first was from Amsterdam to New York in 2009 aboard KLM Asia Boeing 777-200 registered PH-BQE (Epidaurus) and the second was also Amsterdam to New York in 2016 aboard another KLM Asia 777-200 registered PH-BQF (Ferrara City). There's no crown above KLM on the tail, there's no Dutch and European Union flag painted on the aircraft, and instead of "Royal Dutch Airlines" on...

    Both times I ever flew KLM were on KLM Asia Aircraft. The first was from Amsterdam to New York in 2009 aboard KLM Asia Boeing 777-200 registered PH-BQE (Epidaurus) and the second was also Amsterdam to New York in 2016 aboard another KLM Asia 777-200 registered PH-BQF (Ferrara City). There's no crown above KLM on the tail, there's no Dutch and European Union flag painted on the aircraft, and instead of "Royal Dutch Airlines" on the side of the airplane, it says "荷蘭亞洲航空公司" (Netherlands Asia Aviation Company).

  4. iamhere Guest

    It could be possible that the planes were never repainted but the subsidiary does not exist or is not in use anymore.

  5. Andrew Diamond

    That is interesting! I'm flying AMS - TPE (burning the last of my VS points that I hoarded naively thinking ANA redemptions were going to be a good deal forever) this Thursday.

    Solved my confusion before it happened!

  6. Telstra Guest

    What's even more interesting about most operations into TPE/Taiwan by foreign carriers (even Taiwanese carriers) is the need to "touch" Hong Kong on the way in/out if the flight path will cross over Mainland China. Take a look at KLM's and others' routes when they need to use Mainland Chinese airspace; it was exit/enter the Mainland by crossing over Hong Kong territory.

  7. Weymar Osborne Gold

    This is only tangentially related, but something I've found odd is that Star Alliance Carrier EVA Air doesn't fly to the largest Star Alliance hub in Europe, Frankfurt, while Skyteam member China Airlines does. Conversely, China Airlines doesn't fly to Skyteam's biggest Europe hub, CDG, but EVA Air does. Anyone know what the story there is?

    1. Michael Guest

      Perhaps they feel there isn't enough Taiwan traffic to support two alliance partners flying to a hub. In that case, it kinda sorta makes sense. AF can haul the Paris and connecting traffic, while CI can poach the O&D traffic to Frankfurt. Same story with LH and BR regarding CDG.

    2. ARIES Guest

      From my limited understanding, there are restrictions in place as only one Taiwanese airline is allowed to operate between many EU countries and Taipei (with the exception of Vienna). Perhaps CI's service to FRA and BR's service to CDG predates the airlines joining their respective alliance?

  8. Brianair Guest

    It seems like JAL (Japan Asia) and ANA (ANK) were the only Asian airlines to do this subsidiary thing to fly to both Taiwan and China. I think Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, snd Singapore Airlines flew to both countries yet they didn’t have Taiwanese subsidiaries. I wonder why. Also, one of the former Asia subsidiaries not mentioned yet is Qantas with Australia Asia.

    1. A_Japanese Gold

      Korean and Taiwanese airlines all ceased service between Korea and Taiwan when ROK switched recognition from RoC to PRC in 1992. Korean Air began China service from 1994. Surprisingly, direct service between Korea and Taiwan by Korean and Taiwanese airlines were not resumed until 2004.

      I have no idea about Malaysia / Singapore airlines.

  9. Vinod Guest

    BA used to have the same strategy - several planes were painted in British Asia Airways livery.

    1. Pam Thickett Guest

      Yes! And they were always the cheapest ticket to Hong Kong from Taipei. Lots of foreigners working in Taiwan used BA for their visa runs back in the day before Taiwan started enforcing work permit laws.

  10. VladG Gold

    Hah, I saw one such 777 at AMS just yesterday morning and wondered what it was all about! Thanks!

  11. ZTravel Member

    Really interesting blog! I’ve flown these planes but never knew the reason behind it… I thought it was just a marketing thing! Thanks for sharing Ben!

  12. VT-CIE Diamond

    Not the only KLM 777 with a non-standard livery! There are also PH-BVA, with an orange front, and PH-BVD, in the SkyTeam livery. I’d know — I’ve flown the latter from Singapore to Denpasar!

    1. Calvin Guest

      I have always wondered why European airlines and Jal (which had a subsidiary called Japan Asia Airways) did or had to do that, as a fair few airlines like Singapore Airlines were actually flying to both countries at the time already

  13. Franklin W. Dixon Guest

    Bloody stupid political crap from politicians who have too much time on their hands! If I were the CEO of KLM, I would just stop flying to Taiwan and China if they insist on jerking the rest of the world around!

    1. vbscript2 Guest

      Taiwan had no desire for this nonsense. It was purely PRC and their desire to not acknowledge the reality that Taiwan is an independent country.

  14. NateNate Member

    I remember once flying Japan Asia Airways, JAL's version of KLM Asia, from Hong Kong (Kai Tak Airport) to Delhi. At that time, CX didn't fly to Delhi for some reason, so we flew JAA.

  15. LD Guest

    More re-hashed old news! Like all the repeated trip-reports of the same airline, same seat and similar service. ZZZZzz. Maybe there aren't any new exciting aviation-related subjects anymore. Perhaps a change in the 'direction' of OMAAT??

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      Someone needs a new blog to read. There are so, so, so, so many out there. Perhaps a change in the blogs you read??

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ LD -- a) Not sure how it's re-hashed, as I've never covered it before, and I think many people find it interesting? b) I'm not sure how I keep reviewing the "same seat," as all my recent flight reviews have been on products I haven't reviewed before? c) Any tips for what direction you'd like the blog to take, if it's not flight reviews, covering news (as I do), and interesting historical stories (like this one)?

    3. Kevin Guest

      Perhaps LD needs to head off elsewhere!

  16. Bruno Guest

    I've been told by my family members working at KLM that it has to do with the crown in the logo and the airline having a "royal" predicate. Unlike other flag carriers that do not carry a government affiliated symbol.

    In the Netherlands, the King is part of the Government (he heads it) and if his crown is flying to Taipei, it would mean that the Dutch Government supports an independent Taiwan and the PRC...

    I've been told by my family members working at KLM that it has to do with the crown in the logo and the airline having a "royal" predicate. Unlike other flag carriers that do not carry a government affiliated symbol.

    In the Netherlands, the King is part of the Government (he heads it) and if his crown is flying to Taipei, it would mean that the Dutch Government supports an independent Taiwan and the PRC would apparently take issue with this. I don't know whether this is KLM/the Netherlands being cautious or whether this is a PRC demand.

    1. HkCaGu Guest

      Really has to do with the Dutch monarch? Across the North Sea you have another monarch of 15 countries and he (and his mother) sort of recognizes both PRC and ROC.

    2. Icarus Guest

      It is. In the first instance KLM is the only European carrier operating to Taiwan. It also represents the crown by literally having one in its logo

      Neither Virgin nor British Airways fly to Taiwan and do not feature a royal insignia in their logos.

      KLM Asia was set up to allow them to fly to both China and TPE on the basis the crown was removed as it was seen as recognition...

      It is. In the first instance KLM is the only European carrier operating to Taiwan. It also represents the crown by literally having one in its logo

      Neither Virgin nor British Airways fly to Taiwan and do not feature a royal insignia in their logos.

      KLM Asia was set up to allow them to fly to both China and TPE on the basis the crown was removed as it was seen as recognition by the government. In fact the KLM crown is also used by other Dutch companies, and isn’t exclusively used by the airline as it’s a sign of royal approval.

    3. XPL Diamond

      HkCaGu, in fact neither the UK, nor any other nation, nor any multilateral institution, recognizes both PRC and ROC. It would be an interesting thought experiment to speculate what might happen were a nation to unilaterally recognize both, but no one has actually done so.

  17. Wingslover Guest

    As someone already mentioned, JAL operated their subsidiary JAA to Taiwan in the past, but there was also Swissair Asia, British Asia Airways, Air France Asie and Australia Asia Airlines (and maybe a few other airlines?)

  18. ChuckMO Member

    Oddly enough, neither Pan Am nor Northwest had to set up an "Asia" branded subsidiary to operate to Taiwan, after gaining rights to PRC. I wonder what the story is there?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ ChuckMO -- Great question! Well, Pan Am went out of business before 1995, so that's why there was no Asia subsidiary, as it wasn't needed at the time. As far as Northwest goes, I'd be curious to know the answer as well. Any OMAAT readers have insights?

    2. A_Japanese Gold

      I googled and found interesting article on the development of US-China aviation relationship, since first signing bilateral aviation agreement in 1980. US designated PanAm and China designated CAAC (former national airline monopoly later transformed into Ai China, China Eastern and China Southern) as the operator.

      According to that article, in 1981, PanAm began air service from New York to Beijing via Tokyo and CAAC began service from Beijing to SF and NY for CAAC (via...

      I googled and found interesting article on the development of US-China aviation relationship, since first signing bilateral aviation agreement in 1980. US designated PanAm and China designated CAAC (former national airline monopoly later transformed into Ai China, China Eastern and China Southern) as the operator.

      According to that article, in 1981, PanAm began air service from New York to Beijing via Tokyo and CAAC began service from Beijing to SF and NY for CAAC (via Anchorage?). At that time, PanAm did not serve to Taipei.

      In 1983, PanAm began service to Taipei from Tokyo and furious China demanded US to change designated operator from PanAm to other airline which did not serve Taipei. US rejected the demand and threatened to revoke CAAC rights to fly to US, which was highly profitable at that time. China ultimately conceded and turned blind eyes to PanAm. Afterwards, Northwest also began service to Taiwan and China from Japan and Hong Kong (then British colony) but never sanctioned.

      Surprisingly, direct service between US and China was not commenced until 1996, by Northwest Airlines from Detroit to Beijing.

    3. HkCaGu Guest

      @Ben: This "Asia" thing was from the 1970s and 1980s. Cross-strait relations warmed up starting in the late 1980s. KLM was a late comer--Japan Asia was created in 1975.

    4. KIR@GCM Guest

      I used to fly on Continental Micronesia which also flew to some countries in Asia but cant remember if TPE was one of the destinations?

    5. Pam Thickett Guest

      Yes, Continental Micronesia did fly to Taipei.

    6. starwalker Member

      Probably similar to recent years Chinese authorities demanding airlines to label Taiwan as Taiwan, China, this did not affect US airlines as well. China simply does not have enough power to threaten US companies.

    7. A_Japanese Gold

      According to news in those days, PamAm exited Taipei in 1978 in expectation of new service to mainland China, but new service to China was loss-making and Tokyo-Taipei was expected to be highly profitable - so PanAm would lose nothing if they are kicked out of China. Also Reagan administration was hardline against China in 1983.

    8. derek Guest

      Not true.

      United Airlines, Delta, Marriott, and others were threatened by the People's Republic of China even in recent years. That is why United's website lists omits the country for Taipei when booking a flight but has the city and country, like Paris, France, for other cities. It was a compromise after PRC demanded that Taipei, China be used. PRC might demand that UA use the designation "Washington DC China" someday!

      US carriers were not...

      Not true.

      United Airlines, Delta, Marriott, and others were threatened by the People's Republic of China even in recent years. That is why United's website lists omits the country for Taipei when booking a flight but has the city and country, like Paris, France, for other cities. It was a compromise after PRC demanded that Taipei, China be used. PRC might demand that UA use the designation "Washington DC China" someday!

      US carriers were not required to have subsidiaries in China because the airlines are not associated with the federal government.

      PRC and America should recognize Taiwan's right to insist. We are not Hamas who refuse to acknowledge Israeli right to exist.

    9. Tim Dunn Diamond

      although the US supports Taiwan and has done so to an increasingly stronger degree recently, it does not officially recognize it.

  19. Taiwanese Pride Guest

    Japan Asia Airways folded back to JAL. ANA stopped flying ANK to Taiwan.

    Similarly, China said China Airlines couldn’t fly to Australia and Canada, hence the development of Mandarin Airlines which operated 747s to these routes.

    China Airlines and Eva were also forced to remain in Haneda when Narita opened, because Chinese airlines didn’t want to operate in the same airport.

    1. HkCaGu Guest

      And China Airlines is still called "チャイナ エアライン" in Japan, transliterated from English, instead of being "directly" associated with "China" as in "Zhonghua".

    2. A_Japanese Gold

      I heard China airlines called 中華航空 in the past in Japan. But after tragic crash of China Airline flight 140 at Nagoya airport in 1994, they changed the name to チャイナエアライン as the image of 中華航空 was so tarnished in Japan.

  20. vlcnc Guest

    It is an odd anomaly. I don't know if its also because they still use Taipei as a base, I note they do a lot of fifth-freedom routes and often swap the final destination, but Taipei is always the mid stopping point.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ LD -- a) Not sure how it's re-hashed, as I've never covered it before, and I think many people find it interesting? b) I'm not sure how I keep reviewing the "same seat," as all my recent flight reviews have been on products I haven't reviewed before? c) Any tips for what direction you'd like the blog to take, if it's not flight reviews, covering news (as I do), and interesting historical stories (like this one)?

7
vbscript2 Guest

Taiwan had no desire for this nonsense. It was purely PRC and their desire to not acknowledge the reality that Taiwan is an independent country.

6
TravelinWilly Diamond

<em>Someone</em> needs a new blog to read. There are so, so, so, so many out there. Perhaps a change in the blogs you read??

3
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