Sun, Dec 29, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Beijing accepts three applications for charter flights

CROSS-STRAIT FLIGHTS Far East Air Transport, Mandarin Airlines and China Airlines have all applied to operate flights to China during the Lunar New Year holiday

AP , BEIJING

China has accepted applications from three Taiwanese airlines to operate indirect charter flights across the Strait for the Lunar New Year holiday -- a potentially significant move as the two nations inch toward establishing direct air links, a state-run newspaper reported yesterday.

The airlines that have applied are Far East Air Transport Corp, China Airlines and Mandarin Airlines, the China Daily said, quoting an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

Several other Taiwanese carriers are also in the process of applying, said Pu Zhaozhou (浦照洲), who heads the CAAC's Department of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs.

He refused to say if the airlines will be approved, adding that the application forms are only preliminary papers and more documents are required from the carriers.

The airlines also have to work out with China details such as the number of flights, departure and arrival times and landing service contracts, Pu said.

If the applications are approved, it would be the first time Taiwanese airlines would be allowed in five decades to fly charter flights to China.

Domestic airlines have been eager to start the charter services, thinking that the flights would give them a foothold in the potentially enormous China market.

Flights and shipping now must go through a third point, usually Hong Kong, prompting complaints from Taiwanese businesses about added costs and pressure for Taiwan's government to relax its ban.

Taiwan's government agreed to the indirect charter flights on Dec. 4 under certain conditions: that only Taiwanese airlines and foreign carriers -- not Chinese planes -- operate the charter flights, that they fly in and out of only Shanghai and that planes must land in Hong Kong or Macau before flying to China and returning to Taiwan.

According to the plan, chartered flights would start on Jan. 26 and end on Feb. 10.

The flights would help carry some of the estimated 300,000 Taiwanese who work in China and plan to return to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Feb. 1.

A bigger question of direct links between the two sides remains unresolved.

Taiwan has refused to accept China's preconditions that it first concede it is part of Chinese territory, and that the flights be considered domestic.

China has steadfastly refused to tolerate any moves on Taiwan's part to label the flights international.

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