Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 10 News List

People returning to vote boost demand for flights

ONE-OFF BONANZA You have to be here to vote, so thousands of Taiwanese are filling up flights to Taiwan ahead of the election to make sure their voice is heard

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Airlines are benefiting from a surge in demand from overseas Taiwanese returning to vote in the March 20 presidential election, industry insiders said yesterday.

"We have seen an obvious increase in customers demanding flights to Taiwan from the same period last year because of this ad hoc event," said Mimi Chen (陳怡瑄), associate manager for corporate communication at Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.

"And the demand surge reaches a climax three days ahead of election day," she said.

To meet the increase in demand, the Hong Kong carrier -- which runs 103 flights weekly between Taiwan and Hong Kong -- will operate two additional flights on both March 18 and March 19.

Cathay will also use Boeing 777s, which can carry more than 300 passengers, 100 more than the aircraft usually used, for flights on March 17, Chen said.

Recent polls showed that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) opponent Lien Chan (連戰) are in a tight contest. As Taiwan has no system for absentee ballots, voters must return to the country to vote.

More than 10,000 overseas Taiwanese had registered to vote with the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission (僑委會), under the Executive Yuan, as of the Feb. 9 deadline, according to commission Chairperson Chang Fu-mei (張富美).

About 2,000 Taiwanese residents in New York's Flushing -- an area known as "little Taipei" -- will fly back to cast their ballots in the election, The New York Times reported over the weekend.

"Some of our flights from North America to Taiwan in the three days prior to the event are fully booked," said Nieh Kuo-wei (聶國維), an Eva Airways Corp (長榮) spokesman.

Eva will operate four extra flights for its Taipei-Hong Kong routes and five more for the Taipei-Macau route three days before the election to serve China-based Taiwanese businesspeople returning to vote, he said, adding that they expected to see around 10 percent growth this March year-on-year because of the election.

Another airline said that the bookings for most flights to Taiwan for Wednesday through Friday were full.

"For our business, we certainly welcome with pleasure the increase in customer demand brought by the event," said Roger Han (韓梁中), spokesman for the nation's largest carrier, China Airlines (華航).

Han said China Airlines would probably add more flights for its routes between Taipei and Hong Kong and Macau if the current 16 daily flights are not enough.

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