Red-eye flights next on cross-strait talks agenda

TOO MANY?:Some lawmakers asked how the nation was going to handle independent Chinese travelers, given that some popular tourist spots are already congested

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, May 13, 2011 - Page 11

Civil aviation officials from Taiwan and China will meet again next week to discuss increasing the number of cross-strait flights, including adding red-eye flights to some of the popular cities in China, the Civil Aeronautics Administration confirmed yesterday.

At present, airlines operate a total of 370 direct cross-strait flights per week. However, limited supply and high demand have driven up the ticket prices, which have been high ever since the direct cross-strait service was launched three years ago.

Civil Aeronautics Administration Director-General Yin Chen-pong (尹承蓬) said there has been demand for more flights to some of the most popular cities as well as the second-tier cities in China.

“We will accept some red-eye flights to be able to get to some of the popular cities in China this time, because good time slots at airports are becoming more difficult to get,” Yin said.

“However, we will urge the airlines to reduce the ticket prices for red-eye flights so that they could become viable options for consumers,” he said.

Demand for cross-strait flights could rise if Taiwan starts allowing “free independent travelers” (FIT) from China to visit beginning next month. The CAA said the cross-strait flight market has been bullish since March, with average occupancy rate topping 84 percent.

Last month, the average occupancy rate reached 85.82 percent, while the occupancy rates for flights to Beijing and Shanghai topped 92.32 percent and 85.26 percent respectively.

In related news, the Tourism Bureau said it has set up a forecast system in a bid to ease congestion at some of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions.

Taiwan’s travel industry standards have come in for questioning in the wake of a series of accidents in which at least 24 Chinese tourists died.

At a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday, some lawmakers said there was congestion in places regularly frequented by Chinese tourists — including the National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. They questioned whether the nation was ready to handle FIT Chinese travelers given the limited capacity of these tourist attractions.

Tourism Bureau Director-General Janice Lai (賴瑟珍) said that the bureau had set up a forecasting system showing the number of the tourists scheduled to visit Taipei 101 and other popular tourism sites on a weekly basis.

“If the number of visitors on schedule exceeds capacity, we will coordinate with the travel agents to slightly adjust their travel plans,” she said.