Taiwan and Philippines resume direct flights after a year’s absence

The China Post staff and agencies

Taiwan yesterday resumed direct flights to the Philippines, a year after the two sides ensued in a bitter aviation dispute that subsequently resulted in the severance of bilateral air links. Taiwan’s largest carrier China Airlines (CAL) flew the first flight early yesterday morning from the southern city of Kaohsiung to Manila barely two weeks after the pact to resume services was signed. The second flight took off from the northern Chiang Kai-shek International Airport following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. China Airlines spokesman Scott Shih said both flights were fully booked, mostly with Filipino workers stationed in Taiwan. The resumption of the service was welcomed by passengers who were previously forced to transit in Hong Kong. A direct flight will reduce the flying time to just four hours, while cost will be cut by some NT$5,000. Lee Yun-ning, chairman of China Airlines, and Rodolfo Reyes, director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, jointly presided over a ceremony commemorating the resumption of the direct flights. Reyes said that the Taipei-Manila air link is unlikely to be scrapped again, as the new aviation agreement between the two sides was signed in consideration of the mutual interest of the ROC and the Philippines. Reyes pointed out that many Filipino laborers now working in Taiwan will again be able to fly directly between Taiwan and Manila without a stopover in a third area, which will save them a lot of time and money. He added that the resumed air links will make his country more attractive to Taiwan investors. Lee pointed out that Taipei-Manila air links began in 1967, and greatly contributed to mutual understanding and friendship between the two countries. He expressed his belief that the resumption of direct air links will help strengthen economic and cultural interchanges between Taiwan and the Philippines. The two sides signed the new agreement on September 26 on the condition Manila recognize a 1996 bilateral aviation pact. The new pact spells out the increase in the total number of seats per week from the previous 9,600 to 10,050 for both sides. This capacity includes 4,800 weekly passenger seats on the Taipei-Manila route and 1,700 weekly passenger seats on the Kaohsiung-Manila route. Another 450 seats per week will be allowed for the route between Taiwan and the Philippines with Manila and Cebu excluded as points of departure and destination. This is to be operated by one additional airline — Far East Air Transport in the case of Taiwan, which will fly the Subic route. Another 3,100 seats per week will be permitted for charter flights, according to the agreement. Manila had earlier insisted on halving Taiwan’s quota to 4,800 passengers from the 9,600 provided in the 1996 air pact.

The pact would also allow Taiwanese carriers the freedom to carry passengers to a third country, while cargo volume would be increased to 360 tones from 270 tones a week, according to the deal. Direct air links between the two countries were suspended in October 1999 when Manila withdrew recognition of the 1996 deal, accusing Taiwanese carriers of poaching passengers from Philippine Airlines (PAL). Flights were resumed in February this year, but were severed again in March as each side accused the other of reneging on agreements.