Four airports picked for cross-strait flights


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Four airports will be picked to accommodate the planned weekend chartered flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the minister-designate of transportation and communications said yesterday.

“The four are Taipei Songshan Airport and Taoyuan Taiwan International Airport in northern Taiwan, Taichung Airport in central Taiwan and Kaohsiung International Airport in the south,” said Mao Chi-kuo in an interview with a local television network.

Mao said that the introduction of regular cross-strait charter flights and the wider opening of Taiwan to Chinese tourists on sightseeing visits were two of President-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign promises in the run-up to the March 22 presidential election.

The policies mean a lot to the development of Taiwan in many ways, and are expected to revive the country’s economy and tourism, Mao said, pledging to do his utmost to implement the measures after he takes office May 20.

Ma and his running mate Vincent Siew, who scored a lopsided victory over the Democratic Progressive Party in the presidential election, will be inaugurated, along with the new Cabinet May 20.

Asked what airports in China are likely to be designated to accommodate the weekend cross-strait charter flights, Mao said that decision will be up to China.

Taiwan and China, long term political rivals, have not allowed direct transportation links with each other for over half a century, despite the geographic proximity of the two sides.

Regarding the planned opening to Chinese tourists, Mao said all preparations are underway.

He also promised that after he assumes office he will conduct a thorough review of the country’s transportation structure and policies as part of an effort to upgrade the quality of Taiwan’s transportation service.

Touching on the recent shutdown of Far Eastern Air Transport Corp. (FAT) — Taiwan’s oldest privately owned airline specializing in domestic and regional flight routes — Mao said that his heart aches over the carrier’s decline from a blue-chip company to a debt-ridden one.

Describing FAT as a good airline, Mao said that the Ministry of Transportation and Communication cannot intervene in the company’s financial problems until the Taipei District Court has ruled on FAT’s request for bankruptcy protection. He expressed concern about the carrier’s future, saying that he does not know how big a problem FAT is facing.

FAT filed for bankruptcy protection Feb. 17 after reporting debts of NT$9.99 billion (US$322 million) at the end of September 2007.

Mao said he thinks it’s time for Taiwan’s transportation industry to be revamped.

Apart from FAT, Taiwan’s largest carrier China Airlines (CAL) reported its first operational deficit in 10 years in 2007, while EVA Airways reported a deficit of NT$2.3 billion in the first quarter of this year, he noted.

Their problems were not all caused by the launch of the high-speed rail service in January 2007, Mao said, attributing the airline industry’s recession to changes in the economic environment and rising crude oil prices.