Direct flights between the city airports of Taipei and Tokyo resumed yesterday after a hiatus of 31 years, marking a major milestone in Taipei’s ambition to become part of a golden flight circuit connecting Northeast Asia’s major metropolitan areas.
A total of 245 passengers, including Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), set off on the inaugural flight from Taipei International Airport (Songshan) to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at 7:30am.
Hau said at a ceremony at Taipei International Airport before the EVA Airways Airbus 330 departed that he believed the resumption of Songshan-Haneda flights, one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) major policy goals when he was Taipei mayor, would transform the airport into a “capital city business airport.”
The government has positioned the airport as a key link in a “Northeast Asia Golden Flight Circuit” of city airports in Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.
The new flight route is expected to stimulate business travel between the two cities by saving travel time on the ground and baggage pick-up at the airports.
By leaving from the city airport rather than from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, travelers who live in Taipei could save up to 40 minutes transiting to the airport.
Likewise, landing at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport rather than at the more common destination for international flights, Narita International Airport, travelers could save at least 30 minutes on the commute into Tokyo.
Taipei International Airport was once the country’s only international gateway and offered direct flights to Haneda until 1979, when the then-named Taoyuan International Airport opened to handle international flights.
Tseng Mao-pin (曾茂彬), a 77-year-old retired umbrella -manufacturer who lives in Taipei County’s Yonghe (永和), said he used to fly the -Songshan-Haneda route on business when he was young.
“I’m excited to go to see my old friends in Japan again, this time on the first Songshan-Haneda flight,” Tseng said, explaining why he booked a seat on the flight.
Other travelers, however, said they were confused, because they were more familiar with Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
Jennifer Chan, who traveled with 43 members of a mountaineering club from Taichung City, said they left home at 2am without knowing that their travel agent had arranged for them to take the historic flight.
“I still prefer Taoyuan Airport, not only because it takes longer to get to Taipei than to Taoyuan,” Chan said. “But it’s really too small here, plus the ceiling is incredibly low.”
To celebrate the resumption of direct flights between the two gateways, 12 Japanese with the same names as the names of city airports in Taipei and Tokyo were flown for free between the two cities yesterday.
The promotion, co-sponsored by the Tourism Bureau and China Airlines, offered the passengers surnamed “Matsuyama” (or Songshan in Chinese) and “Haneda” free same-day round-trip travel between Haneda and Songshan airports and a day tour in Taipei.
The China Airlines flight that left Haneda at 7am was the first to fly from the Tokyo city airport to the Taipei City airport.
Keiko Matsuyama, a 37-year-old businesswoman, said she was “amazed” to learn that her last name had the same characters as the Taipei airport and she was eager to enjoy her day in the city.
“I am looking forward to having a massage and some hsiaolungpao [steamed dumplings],” she said.