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).
In this post:
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.
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.
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?