Taiwanese carriers optimistic that cross-strait ties will deepen

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Taiwan's two main carriers continue to call for China to allow its citizens to transit on the island, a move they are convinced that is guaranteed to boost their businesses.

Flag carrier China Airlines' president Sun HH says the issue will be on the agenda for the next round of talks between Taiwan and China, and that he expects the change to come "within these two years".

"We have been waiting for this for a very, very long time. It's a very crucial and important opportunity for us. It will not only benefit China Airlines, but the entire aviation industry in Taiwan [which] will be affected positively," Sun says in an interview with Flightglobal Pro in Taipei.

China has become a key market for Taiwanese carriers after direct cross-straits flights started in 2009. However, while Taiwanese passengers are allowed to transit in China if they want to, Chinese passengers are not allowed to do so without a visa in Taiwan, not even when they are not leaving the airport.

Eva Air's president Austin Cheng believes his airline's business will grow by up to 30%, should China's ban on transiting in Taiwan be lifted.

"Most mainland tourists transit via Hong Kong, Seoul and Narita. Under these circumstances, there are no reasons why they can't transit in Taipei. If this is changed, it'll be good for Eva, we have a strong trans-Pacific connection," says Cheng.

Calling for "fair treatment", he adds that Chinese carriers have over the years been largely focused on growing their domestic network. While their networks to Europe are fairly established, their transpacific and North American networks are not as developed. Eva has also lost some passengers looking for cheaper fares to Chinese carriers.

Having large transit traffic is also important for Taiwan, in view of its aim to develop Taipei into a regional hub.

As a result of improving bilateral relations, the number of cross-strait flights have increased over the year, with the latest announcement made this month that allows for 670 weekly services. Still, Taiwanese carriers are calling for more flights, especially to first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Since there are no regulations on the number of passengers that can be carried, the Taiwanese carriers have been using larger aircraft such as the Boeing 747s and Airbus A330s on some of the high demand routes.

"[For China and Taiwan], we're going into the best relationship [phase] in history. I believe this will be maintained, so there's no reason why we should not be optimistic [about the lifting of the ban]," says Cheng.