Image copyright EPA Image caption Mao Chialin or “Hamlet” has flown for months on a paraglider-like aircraft named Air Bee
“Air Bee” has had just nine flights since October but they have changed the lives of a Taiwanese pilot and his estranged wife.
The couple had been separated for five years and struggled to pay child support for their three children, when “Hamlet” flew in at a cost of NT$16m (£330,400).
What was once a loose-end of a disputed ownership rights dispute has morphed into a novel legal dispute over protection for fragile countries.
Pilot Mao Chialin, who is known in Taiwan as Hong Leh, started flying paragliders in 1979.
In 2007, he bought his first aeroplane, which he used to fly for air taxi operator Tri Express. A friend said Mr Hong was “really flyable”, so started an air taxi service and dubbed it Air Bee.
He bought a paraglider plane named Air Bee in 2017 and plucked a plane out of storage to begin flights.
Image copyright EPA Image caption Mr Hong said he was ready to fly to Shanghai, Beijing or Los Angeles
Mr Hong told Taiwan’s Media New service that last year he hoped to fly to San Francisco, Shanghai, Beijing or Los Angeles and serve as tourist or luxury transport planes.
But a regional competition, involving flight between Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, was declared unfair and many Taiwanese wanted to participate.
To meet this demand, Mr Hong got listed as a co-owner of the aircraft, but Beijing and Taipei refused to recognise his ownership of the plane, partly to protect their respective airlines, Taiwan Airlines and China Airlines.
“Every day I was working for the interest of the plane, but there was no income coming back because I didn’t have more investment… but this use case puts everything right where I wanted to be,” he said.
Image copyright EPA Image caption But Beijing and Taipei refused to recognise his ownership of the plane, partly to protect their respective airlines
The Chinese official Xinhua News Agency quoted a spokesman for China’s Civil Aviation Administration as saying: “We must, if necessary, take measures to protect China’s interests.”
Air Bee’s flight schedule
According to Ms Chung Chun-Yi, Mr Hong’s wife, the first flight was in April last year.
She said she took their daughter and son, now aged 18, to the mid-west of the United States and spent up to 12 hours on the plane.
Mr Hong’s plane flew to the Netherlands and from there to Illinois where Mr Chung stayed overnight at his employer’s house.
A week later, Mr Chung visited Taiwan with Mr Hong and his family.
In May, they returned to the United States for a holiday and the carrier offered to pay for their seats. When he returned to Taiwan, Mr Chung said her husband was in very high spirits.
Ms Chung flew with Mr Hong to Tenerife in Spain and from there, Singapore. Mr Hong said he was proud to work for the enjoyment of others, she said.
And the couple has been flying again since.
The air taxi company’s software manager told Reuters news agency that the flight to London, based on an option put by AirBee’s corporate clients, started in November.
Image copyright EPA Image caption The plane contains 24 seats, including eight in the loft
“It is an innovative way to offer space, time and entertainment, all in the air,” said Lin Zhiguang, who declined to provide an estimate for flight length.
Mr Lin said that if any companies want to fly with Air Bee, they pay between $4,000 (£2,700) and $15,000 per person, based on a personal travel rating system.
“This will eliminate a lot of stress and find easy transportation in countries where there is security risk. It will also help to secure our place in history,” Mr Mao told Taiwan’s Media News.
Mr Hong will “probably buy a business aircraft” to use on the company’s increasing number of business clients, he added.
With some on the legal process, the flight plans seem to be gathering speed, and the couple are flying at least once a week from their house in eastern Taiwan.
Mr Chung is due to fly to Vietnam to do three more flights in April and this winter to South Korea, Japan and China.