《TAIPEI TIMES》FAT aims to resume operations
People line up at a Far Eastern Air Transport counter at Kinmen Shangyi Airport yesterday after the airline announced refunds for canceled flights. Photo: CNA
By Kao Shih-ching, Chien Hui-ju and Jake Chung / Staff reporters, with staff writer
Far Eastern Air Transport （FAT, 遠東航空） chairman Chang Kang-wei （張綱維） yesterday said he aims to resume normal operations at the company, if authorities approve, as he has secured pledges for funds.
Chang, who could not be reached by the media or colleagues on Thursday, made the statement one day after FAT said it was halting services due to financial problems.
“I hope aviation regulators would allow us to resume services, as new capital of NT$100 million [US$3.3 million] should be available in two weeks,” Chang told a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Taipei.
He remains committed to FAT, Chang said.
An internal letter to shut the company was written by colleagues, who misjudged the situation, he said.
“The letter was written by managers, who judged the situation incorrectly,” he said.
Chang said he turned off his mobile, as he was “in a bad mood” over the financial stress, although he kept in touch with company management.
The company could not pay about NT$30 million in interest and payrolls, due to funds from investors being unavailable, he said.
If he were to close the airline, he would not have issued wages on Dec. 5, Chang said, adding that he never gets into anyone’s debt, be they contractors, customers or employees.
“Yesterday was the most frustrating day in my life... I did want to die when I wrote the farewell letter,” he said. “Soon after I gave the letter to the media, new investors said they would inject funds to keep FAT alive, which I previously thought was impossible.”
“God took care of me and FAT,” he said.
There are three groups of new investors with financial strength, he said, declining to reveal their names.
Chang said he is to share control of the firm to ease the burden.
Prior to yesterday’s drama, FAT maintained regular cash flow, with NT$40 million in its booking account, while regular expenditure included NT$100 million for fuel and NT$80 million for wages, he said.
Later yesterday, Chang sent a letter to FAT employees, saying that management was working to solve the financial problems and hoped they would all remain at their posts.
Separately, the Civil Aeronautics Administration （CAA） said it has fined FAT NT$3 million and asked the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to revoke its civilian airline transportation license as of Thursday night.
The CAA declined to comment on whether it would allow the airline to reapply for the license.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung （林佳龍） said the ministry would do everything in its power to protect the rights of consumers, FAT employees and travel agencies.
The CAA and the Tourism Bureau have been tasked with assisting those affected by FAT’s sudden interruption of services, and aim to mitigate as much as possible its effects on the tourism industry and elsewhere, Lin said, adding that the ministry has contacted the Ministry of Labor for assistance regarding FAT employees’ rights.The transport ministry is in talks with other domestic airlines to resolve an expected increase in travelers over the year-end and Lunar New Year holiday periods, particularly transportation to outlying islands such as Kinmen and Penghu, he said.
FAT’s management should explain how the situation developed, and the company should take full legal and social responsibility for suddenly halting operations yesterday, he said.
The transport ministry last year ordered FAT to establish a consumer protection trust fund, which has more than NT$100 million in it, Lin said, adding that other measures include FAT promissory notes and the board of directors’ joint responsibility.
Separately yesterday, New Power Party Legislator Huang Kuo-chang （黃國昌） said that FAT chairman Chang Kang-wei （張綱維） has had “abnormal dealings” with former deputy minister of transportation and communications Chang Cheng-yuan （張政源）, who is now director-general of the Taiwan Railways Administration.
After a meeting between the two, Chang Cheng-yuan agreed to take half of the NT$140 million reportedly in the fund, Huang said, adding that Chang Kang-wei in March withdrew NT$17.7 million from the fund.
He called for a judicial investigation and demanded that the transport ministry explain the matter.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office said that it has opened an investigation and listed Chang Kang-wei as a suspect, and had summoned him and FAT vice president Cheng Ching-wen （鄭晴文） for questioning last night.
Probes are under way on three cases involving Chang Kang-wei, including allegations that he embezzled NT$2.2 billion from the airline, prosecutors said.
That sum, the total amount of a loan issued by Taiwan Cooperative Bank （合作金庫） to FAT, was allegedly transferred from the airline to Chang Kang-wei’s leasing company, prosecutors said, adding that they were investigating possible document forgery and breach of trust.
Another case was opened after Thursday’s announcement that FAT was canceling all flights and ceasing operations, as well as laying off its staff, which prosecutors said infringed on the rights of workers and breached the Civil Aviation Act （民用航空法）.
Prosecutors said that they had started monitoring the airline and collecting information last year after receiving tip-offs regarding FAT’s financial trouble and unusual fund transfers.
Additional reporting by Cheng Wei-chi and Jason Pan