With its new terminal, Taiwan's Chiang Kai-Shek Airport wants to become an Asian hub. But first it must get the traffic

Brent Hannon/TAIPEI

As the new Terminal 2 opens at Taiwan's gateway Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) International Airport later this month, the country will inaugurate a new president who is far more open to the idea of direct air links to China than his predecessor.

The $580 million terminal, which will almost double the airport's passenger capacity, was built to help Taiwan become a hub for Asian traffic, and to accommodate growth in transpacific traffic. The main prize, however, would be direct flights between Taiwan and China which have been banned for more than 50 years.

Even if that does not happen, the terminal will help Taiwan become a leading regional hub, says CKS airport managing director Te-Ho Wang. "Taiwan's geography makes it a key location in Asia and this will help make CKS Airport a major transport centre," he says.

But Taiwan faces serious competition for traffic. Tokyo is the top transpacific hub and has direct connections to many cities in China, while Hong Kong, also a transpacific hub, has flights to 18 cities in China. Jim Eckes, managing director of Indoswiss Aviation, a Hong Kong-based consultancy, says: "I don't think Taipei is in much of a position, politically or geographically, to become a regional air hub, Hong Kong and Tokyo are both in a lot better position."

Long way to go

Taiwan lacks direct flights not only to China, but also to South Korea and the Philippines. The once-busy South Korea/Taiwan corridor has been served only by third-country carriers since a dispute in 1992 and Philippines flights have been suspended since October last year. "The new terminal is a good start, but they have a long way to go," says Eckes.

In any case, the new terminal will ease the overcrowding at CKS, where passenger traffic has grown by an average of 10% each year for the past decade. It will have 158 more check-in counters and, in its first phase, 10 more aircraft parking gates with bridges, with seven remote sites. When the north concourse is added to Terminal 2 in 2003, it will add another 10 attached gates and seven remote sites.

This will increase airport capacity from 6,000 passengers an hour to 11,000 and will increase annual passenger capacity by 17 million passengers a year. The old terminal was built 21 years ago to process 8 million passengers a year and by 1990 it had reached that number. Last year, about 18 million people passed through CKS.

"Slots at CKS are very tight, but the new terminal will ease that problem," says J C Jong, a former executive at Taiwan's TransAsia Airways and now an aerospace MBA student at Toulouse Business School. "The main benefit will be in the cargo and express mail markets. These sectors are booming."

The south concourse and the Terminal 2 building are due to open in late May or June, while the people-mover system, a train that will link the two terminals, is set for completion in October 2001. Buses will link the terminals until the people mover is finished.

A high-speed rail link with Taipei is on the drawing board, with completion set for 2003, although Wang expects a delay of up to two years. The train will reduce the trip to Taipei from 1h to about 30min.

EVA Air is moving into Terminal 2, along with Air New Zealand, AirNippon, Qantas, Canadian Airlines and EVA subsidiary UNI Air. "It's a good chance for us to improve our image," says Austin Cheng, deputy director of EVA's airport office. "Besides, we have to move - China Airlines already occupies the good slots at Terminal 1."

Interested in moving

EVA and the other five airlines will use 60% of the available slot space in the first stage of Terminal 2, before the north concourse is completed. Altogether, the six account for 30% of the total passenger traffic at CKS.

Singapore Airlines and United are interested in moving to Terminal 2, says Wang. Cathay Pacific may transfer when the north concourse is finished in three years. Several airlines that considered moving have chosen to stay in Terminal 1, says Wang, including Thai Airways International and Taiwan's TransAsia Airways.

China Airlines (CAL) will not move into the new terminal, says CAL president Sandy Liu. "In the first phase, there are not enough gates for all our operations," he says. When the north concourse opens in 2003, says Liu, CAL may consider moving some of its operations across.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) had hoped to open the new terminal in January, but that date was pushed back. In February, EVA sent a list of demands to the CAA to be met before it would agree to move. "Now the CAA knows the situation - otherwise it might have been a disaster," says EVA's Cheng. "But we are ready to move."

EVA's biggest worry is the readiness of the automated baggage system, says EVA deputy senior vice-president K W Nieh, although the airport authorities can always revert to the manual baggage system used in Terminal 1.

Although CKS has a reputation for quick aircraft turnaround times and efficient, no-frills passenger service, Terminal 2 will be even faster, says Wang. Each departure lounge has a dedicated security check, which will eliminate queues at the X-ray machines, and will also stop transit passengers having to pass through security twice.

Arriving passengers will benefit the most. "Currently, it takes nearly 20min to pass through CKS, but we hope to reduce that to 12min, the same as [Singapore's] Changi Airport," says Wang. The new terminal will allow ground handlers to offload luggage more quickly. Automated baggage systems and carousels will be more efficient. New immigration officials have been hired and customs will institute random checks in place of the comprehensive checks now required in Terminal 1.

Terminal 2 will be more pleasant for passengers. The old terminal, besides being crowded, looks shabby, especially compared to the new one, which has high skylight ceilings, comfortable passenger and VIP lounges, with more space for shops, restaurants and duty free areas. The main building and south concourse of Terminal 2 have 23% more floor space.

For business travellers, Terminal 2 will provide increased Internet access, 22 day rooms with showers, and a convention hall with a large conference room and three meeting rooms. The VIP lounges will be four times bigger than present ones and come after passport control, not before. In Terminal 1, all the VIP lounges except EVA and CAL precede passport control.

All charges, including airport tax, landing fees, ground handling fees and transport into Taipei will remain the same, says Wang. Last year, CKS made a profit of NT$6.4 billion ($210 million) and the new terminal was paid for by the revenue it generated.

Further expansion

CKS could quickly expand further. Because the airport has two parallel runways with a separation of 1,507m (4,940ft), servicing more flights is a simple matter of building new terminals between the runways. A third terminal is planned and land is available for a third runway, if needed.

That demand might come from cross-strait travel. Taiwanese traffic to the mainland has increased dramatically since the Taiwanese were first allowed to travel to China in 1987. Last year, almost 2 million Taiwanese did so, most through Hong Kong and Macau. In the early 1990s, direct flights to the mainland seemed imminent, but it eventually became clear that President Lee Teng-hui, in office since 1988, had no intention of establishing links. There is also pent-up demand in China for travel to Taiwan, says CAL. "If the government in Taiwan is willing to open a small door for Chinese to travel to Taiwan, then the traffic would be fantastic."

So the election of Chen Shui-bian, who will take office on 20 May, was greeted with enthusiasm by Taiwan's airlines. One of Chen's campaign proposals was to allow shipping to resume first, followed by air links. Under his proposal, airlines from both sides would fly across the strait under the management of Taiwan's airlines. They would share the profits. China has favoured direct flights for years. "The time for direct links may be near," CAL says.

Source: Flight International