Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Cargo operators eager for direct cross-strait flights

SLOW PROGRESS Local airlines said Taiwanese carriers will lose business to competitors in China if the government does not speed up the process

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Local cargo operators yesterday said they will be delighted to see the establishment of direct cross-strait cargo flights, but said that domestic carriers will soon lose ground to their competitors in the Chinese market unless the government accelerates the process to make the flights a reality.

"In fact, we have already fallen slightly behind other rivals in the market, especially our US counterparts, since China opened its skies to the US last year," Chang Kuo-wei (張國煒), president of EVA Airways Corp (長榮航空), told reporters at a media conference yesterday.

Currently, cargo flights between Taiwan and China must make transit stops in Hong Kong or Macau, which increase costs and create delays, especially for the large number of Taiwanese companies in China. The government has previously conducted research on the possibilities and benefits of direct cargo flights, but no concrete progress has been made on the proposal.

The uncertainty over direct flights compromises the competitiveness of local cargo operators, Chang said, adding that the government should take a more liberal attitude toward the establishment of policies regarding investment or business in China.

"Doing business in China has become a trend because of the huge potential ... it's not a matter of patriotism, but a matter of business," Chang said.

If the government fails to open direct cargo flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the domestic cargo industry may wither in the near future, Chang said.

In the past, cargo operators transported vast quantities of components for notebook computers, as well as finished goods, but the volume has dropped significantly as a result of industry migration to China, he said.

Although carriers can still make money from the emerging telecommunication and flat-panel industries in Taiwan, these sectors have shown signs of moving across the Strait to take advantage of its low-cost labor and huge market, he added.

EVA Airways is engaged in talks with China's Shanghai Airlines (上海航空) to set up a cargo company, but the details of the joint venture cannot be disclosed at present, Chang said.

The nation's largest carrier, China Airlines (CAL, 華航), is also looking forward to the realization of direct cargo flights.

CAL chairman Chiang Yao-chung (江耀宗) said yesterday his company is ready to launch cross-strait services as soon as approval is granted.

Chiang said that, with 17 cargo freighters, CAL ranks No. 7 in the world in terms of cargo capacity, and therefore can provide a better service than its rivals in China.

For the initial stage of direct cargo flights, he suggested that the government allow cargo services to big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, and then gradually extend the services to second-tier cities.

Chiang said he hopes the government will also allow Taiwanese operators to transport goods from China to key markets such as the US and Europe.

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