Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Okinawa proposed as stopover for New Year flights

DIRECT CHARTER FLIGHTS Calls are increasing for non-stop flights between Shanghai and Taipei, despite government insistence that stopovers cannot be skipped

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

DPP Legislator Chang Ching-fang shows a map of the proposed routes of charter flights between Taipei and Shanghai at a press conference yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Opposition lawmakers yesterday continued to push for direct charter flights across the Strait for the Lunar New Year holidays although the government has made clear that stopovers in Hong Kong or Macau cannot be skipped.

Meanwhile, a ruling DPP lawmaker suggested an alternative route -- letting the charter flights make transit stops at Japan's Okinawa island in order to make air travel between Taipei and Shanghai more cost-efficient.

Led by KMT Legislator John Chang (章孝嚴), legislative leaders from the opposition alliance set up a task force yesterday to help bring Taiwan businesspeople in China home for the coming holidays on direct chartered flights.

They urged the government to free the proposed flights from what they called "symbolic" landings in Hong Kong or Macau under the "one plane, one indirect flight," policy.

On Tuesday, the Mainland Affairs Council said domestic airlines may apply directly with Chinese authorities for charter flights to ferry China-based Taiwanese busi-nesspeople home. But it added that such flights must stop over in Hong Kong or Macau, in line with the current rules of air travel across the Strait.

Chang said he appreciated the government's lenience in the matter but argued that the required stopovers cause passengers great inconvenience.

"Additional landings and take-offs inevitably lengthen the flights and increase costs," he noted, adding that the government made no mention whether the Taiwanese businessmen would be able to take charter flights back to China after the holidays.

To clear things up, the lawmaker invited Cabinet officials to join him on his trip to China next week.

The air industry has said fares for the planned charter flights cannot be lower than that for existing indirect flights between Taiwan and China via Hong Kong or Macau. The latter costs passengers between NT$17,000 and NT$18,000 per round trip.

Chang, who has sought unsuccessfully to meet with Premier Yu Shyi-kun to press his case, said the charter flights have the support of 140 lawmakers, 26 of whom are from the ruling DPP.

KMT Legislative Whip Chuan-chia (李全教) also doubted the necessity of the required stopovers.

"The same plane will carry the same passengers home from China, whether indirectly or directly," Lee said. "That being so, the stopovers serve no other purposes than complicating the trip."

Though China's Taiwan Affairs Office has reiterated the need for reciprocity, Chang said he is confident the principle will not apply until after the Lunar New Year.

"That is another thing we want to make sure of as the Lunar New Year approaches," he said.

In a separate news conference, DPP Legislator Chang Ching-fang (張清芳) suggested that charter flights could make transit stops on Okinawa instead.

He said the alternative route would take only three-and-a-half hours from Shanghai to Taipei. It takes six to seven hours via Hong Kong or Macau between the same points.

The DPP lawmaker said Japan Asia Airways has indicated keen interest in operating the charter flights -- if Taiwan and China were to agree to the flights.

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