The Control Yuan yesterday censured the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) for lavishly expanding one of the two airports in eastern Taiwan that has very little passenger volume.
The Control Yuan said the ministry had been “too optimistic” in its assessment of the potential passenger traffic to Hualien Airport, investing NT$2.625 billion (US$90.75 million) on an expansion project for the airport when its facility use rate was only 7 percent.
Hualien Airport fell short of its targeted revenue by an average of NT$200 million annually between 2006 and last year, while Taitung Airport failed to meet its expected annual revenues by and average of NT$100 million a year between 2002 and last year, Control Yuan member Yang Mei-lin (楊美鈴) said during a news conference.
“While investigating the operations of the two airports, it was saddening for me to find that the business revenues of the two airports every year couldn’t even cover their personnel costs,” Yang said.
Business revenues posted last year by Hualien Airport were NT$18.82 million, but its personnel costs amounted to as much as NT$65.22 million.
Meanwhile, Taitung Airport’s revenues were NT$25.32 million, compared with its personnel costs of NT$45.44 million.
Yang said when the expansion of Hualien Airport began in 2001, the operating environment of the ministry’s assessment had already changed.
Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said an improvement project for the Taiwan Railway Administration’s Eastern Line and a freeway linking Taipei and Yilan were already under way when the expansion project began, but the ministry failed to consider that those projects could cannibalize passenger traffic at the two east coast airports.
“The ministry went ahead with the expansion, but after the opening of the expanded airport, the number of tourist arrivals declined annually,” Cheng said.
Cheng said the key to whether Hualien Airport could gain a new lease on life would depend on charter flights.
He said Hualien County officials told him they had visited China to promote tourism. However, when the central government recently announced that direct cross-strait flights would increase from 370 flights to 558 flights a week, most of the increased flights went to bigger airports in western Taiwan.
“The Ministry of Transportation and Communications has the responsibility to consider the local needs and incorporate them into an overall assessment to make the use of airports in eastern Taiwan more cost-effective,” Cheng said.