Mon, Apr 09, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Plans brewing for Taichung airport expansion

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

The Civil Aeronautics Administra-tion (CAA) has drawn up a plan to expand Taichung airport in central Taichung County, including construction of a new passenger terminal for international flights, CAA Director-General Billy Chang (張國政) said yesterday.

The expansion plan also calls for construction of a new runway, two taxiways and a hangar, Chang added.

Chang said that the new terminal will mainly accommodate passengers on international flights. Because of its limited space, Taichung airport can only operate regional flights and is barred from managing trans-Pacific routes.

Once the new terminal is completed, Chang said, the existing terminal will only handle domestic flights, private aircraft and special commercial planes.

The CAA-drafted expansion plan has been referred to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications for review, Chang said, adding that as the airport's passenger volume has not yet reached capacity, the expansion plan remained on the drawing board.

"We'll start detailed planning when the airport's traffic volume increases to a certain level," Chang said.

If all goes well, he predicted the planned new passenger terminal would be completed by the end of 2009.

As to whether the airport would be allowed to manage charter flights across the Taiwan Strait, Chang said it depended on government policies.

"Technically, it won't be a problem," he added.

CAA tallies showed that Taichung airport handled approximately 18,000 flights last year, for a total of 693,000 passengers. Its runways could accommodate 32 sorties per hour.

At present, Mandarin Airlines' repair and maintenance operations are located at the airport. To the best of his knowledge, Chang said, Mandarin, a wholly owned subsidiary of Taiwan's largest carrier, China Airlines, was planning to expand its maintenance facility at the airport.

In an interview, Mandarin chairman Mike Lo (樂大信) confirmed that the company was working on a plan to expand its maintenance facility at the airport and could even relocate its headquarters from Taipei City to Taichung.

Lo said Mandarin was considering a relocation plan amid reports that the government would invest NT$30 billion (US$907 million) to build a new terminal and a new runway at Taichung airport to facilitate its transformation from a domestic airport to a facility specializing in international point-to-point flights, with Asian cities as the main service targets.

With the inauguration of the high-speed rail, the airport's international charter flight passengers have begun to outnumber domestic flight passengers, tallies have shown.

Lo said that Mandarin's international charter flight services between Taichung and major Asian cities -- including Seoul, Hong Kong, Laoag and Ho Chi Minh City -- have grown steadily.

"We expect the percentage of our international flight services will expand to 70 percent of our total business this year, up from 60 percent," Lo said, adding that the company was seeking to transform itself into an Asia-focused international carrier with Taichung airport as its operational hub.

Officials from the ministry and the Council for Economic Planning and Development confirmed that the government would invest NT$2 billion to upgrade the quality of the airport's passenger and cargo service and build new facilities, including a new passenger terminal, provided the number of passengers increases rapidly enough.

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