Fresh blow to already tarnished reputation
China Airlines is Taiwan's biggest carrier but its safety record has left it with a controversial reputation.
The airline was established in 1959 and has suffered 12 fatal crashes since 1969, including yesterday's. Before yesterday's disaster, more than 400 people had been killed.
Some aviation experts have blamed the airline's bureaucratic management, which is closely linked with the Government, for the number of accidents.
Doubts over performance led to the airline's privatisation in 1992, which saw it become an asset of the China Aviation Development Foundation.
But the privatisation drive has done little to improve its safety record.
The carrier suffered one of its worst crashes near Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in February 1998, when 202 people died, which led to three senior airline executives being dismissed.
After the disaster, the airline announced a thorough review of its 68-member advisory body to determine whether any of its members should be sacked.
In a huge promotion campaign in the same year, the airline said its new vision was to 'become the most reliable airline'.
The airline's pilot training programme has also been under the spotlight. An investigation by Hong Kong aviation authorities after a China Airlines flight skidded into Victoria Harbour in 1993 hinted that pilot error was one reason for the accident.
Some critics claimed that the airline had in the past hired retired air force pilots who did not have enough flying experience in civilian aviation, although such allegations have never been independently verified.
However, in 1998 the airline announced it would recruit more pilots from overseas to help re-establish people's confidence.
It also decided to send recruits overseas to receive training and bought new simulator planes and trainer aircraft.
The airline has taken steps to strengthen pilots' landing skills, specifically in bad weather and typhoons, and has cut flights to allow pilots time to undergo short-term retraining.
The airline's safety record has greatly affected its profit performance. In 1998, it recorded an annual operating deficit of NT$2.1 billion (HK$475 million).
However, in 2000, after two years without any major accidents, it bounced back with a profit of NT$2.9 billion.
Analysts said yesterday's crash had basically wiped out the re-engineering efforts. It would take years to repair the damage.
The airline will face increased insurance premiums and slumping sales revenue, and may be forced to cut back ambitious fleet expansion plans.
It will also have to deal with huge compensation claims.