Airline and airport network planners gather in Beijing for Routes at a hugely significant time for the region, with the opening of scheduled non-stop flights between China and Taiwan creating a new market for air travel.

The first direct scheduled passenger flights on the route were carried out by a number of Chinese and Taiwanese operators on 31 August, the first such routes for 60 years. It marks the latest development in the gradual loosening of restrictions on flights between the two which began in 2003 with the first charter passenger flights since 1949.

The most recent agreement, reached earlier this year, permits the first direct scheduled passenger routes under an accord which allows for 270 passenger and 28 cargo flights per week, a mix of scheduled and charter flights.

The new non-stop scheduled services provide huge time and fuel savings. For example, Shanghai-Taipei takes five hours via Hong Kong but only one hour and 20 minutes non-stop.

The market for non-stop scheduled flights is huge because China has agreed to allow up to 3,000 tourists from mainland China to arrive in Taiwan each day.

President of Taiwan carrier EVA Air, Jeng Kung-yeun, says prior to March only 10-15% of those on its non-stop charter flights were tourists but that this has since grown to reach 20%. China Airlines president Sun HH says for the period January to April about 30% of the passengers it carried on its non-stop charter flights were mainland Chinese and the other 70% were Taiwanese, overseas Chinese and foreigners.

The 270 weekly passenger flights permitted under the deal are shared among nine mainland Chinese and five Taiwanese carriers (see tables overleaf).

Cities on each side of the cross-straits have also been vying for a piece of the action. Six more mainland Chinese cities have just joined the list of those permitted to have flights from Taiwan. These are Hefei, Harbin, Nanchang, Guiyang, Ningbo and Jinan. This brings to 21 the number of mainland Chinese cities catering to flights from Taiwan.

The Taiwan side, meanwhile, has Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung open to flights from the mainland. Most of the traffic is centred in and out of Taipei but Taiwanese politicians also listed Kaohsiung and Taichung.

The two sides have also allowed select airlines to use Taipei Songshan Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao Airport rather than the main international gateways of Shanghai Pudong Airport and Taipei Taoyuan Airport.

Of all the routes linking China to Taiwan, Taipei-Shanghai generates the most traffic. Taiwanese represent one of the biggest communities in Shanghai and the Taipei-Shanghai route generates a lot of traffic from business travellers. Taipei Songshan and Shanghai Hongqiao are popular with business travellers because these airports arecloser to the city-centre.

The total number of non-stop passenger flights permitted remains relatively small compared with the level of market demand as reflected in the number of one-stop services which are currently operating. Hong Kong is the major stopover point with 313 flights per week to Taiwan, according to Innovata data. The next major stopover points are Macau and Kinmen with 139 and 252 flights per week respectively.

Some airlines expect that more flights will be made available in future. Sun at China Airlines says liberalisation of air services over the cross-straits is being done phase-by-phase so he is expecting that "maybe by early next year" there will be even more flights.


Source: Flight Daily News