Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Domestic airlines will have to slash scheduled flights

SOFT BOOKINGS There appears to be no end in sight for the nation's air carriers, some of which may have to cut as many as 1,000 flights in June

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Domestic air carriers hard hit by SARS are expected to cut more flights next month following soft bookings both last month and this month, an official with the nation's aviation authority told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Cuts in domestic flights are unavoidable as people still prefer to stay home to reduce the risk of contracting the disease, said Amy Ling (凌鳳儀), director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration's air transport division. "The number of flight cuts is expected to grow larger in June."

To save costs, four domestic carriers have decided to slash 1,000 flights from May 18 to the end of the month, which rep-resents a record-high 13.6 percent drop in normal weekly services, Ling said.

These four carriers -- Uni Airways (立榮), TransAsia Airways (復興), Far Eastern Air Transport Co (遠東) and Mandarin Airlines (華信) -- reported 58 percent occupancy rate on average in March and saw the figure drop to 54.6 percent last month, according to administration statistics.

The downturn forced the cancellation of many sightseeing routes to offshore islets such as Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu this month, while the Taipei-Kaohisung route still fared well because it mainly focuses on business travelers and commuters, Ling said.

Flights from Taiwan to Kinmen in particular were halved after a temporary suspension of the "small three links," which were used by Taiwanese businesspeople to travel between Taiwan and China's southeastern provinces, the administration said.

UNI Airways decided to slash 286 out of 1,283 flights during the last two weeks of this month.

"Our business has fallen by 40 to 50 percent [this month and last], but we'll still keep all our staff and wait for the crisis to pass," said Cherry Chen (陳麗萍), a public relations director at UNI Airways. The carrier owned by the Evergreen Group (長榮集團) covers one-third of the nation's domestic air traffic.

TransAsia Airways, which also suffered a 30 to 40 percent fall in business in May, expressed confidence in the recovery of the domestic market, said the companys' public relations manager Janet So (湛華生).

"The speed of that recovery hinges on the containment of the disease," So said. "Domestic travel may start to revive ... if SARS can be controlled."

Far Eastern Air, a domestic airline that has been widely speculated to be the first to go under, decided to cancel 70 out of 664 flights during the last two weeks of the month.

To help local carriers, the government on Thursday decided to allocate a budget of NT$2.016 billion for the nation's airline industry. However, the money is unlikely to be enough.

"Instead of passively receiving aid from the government or giving out discounts, building confidence among passengers will work best to save the industry," UNI Airways' Chen said.

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