The last passenger air service between Taipei and Kaohsiung will officially end today, as a result of continuously losing customers to the high-speed rail system.
Mandarin Airlines was the only domestic carrier left that provided flight services between Taipei and Kaohsiung, which were available on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. Two other domestic carriers — Uni Air and TransAsia Airways — pulled out of the service market in 2008.
Mandarin Airlines said it decided to terminate the flight service because of an increase in operational losses, particularly after the high-speed rail began operations in 2007. The average occupancy rate of the service dropped to less than 50 percent and sometimes even to 30 percent.
While the service was only available on three nights per week, one-way tickets cost NT$1,750 (US$58). The high-speed rail charges NT$1,490 for a one-way ticket and provides hundreds of services during the week.
The airline applied to end the Taipei-Kaohsiung service several times, but its application had been repeatedly rejected by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). The company only secured the approval after it said it would increase the number of flights between Taipei and Taitung from 14 to 17 per week.
The Taipei-Kaohsiung service used to be one of the most popular domestic routes in the nation, with about 3,000 flights available per year. Some carriers even offered a set of 10 prepaid tickets for frequent travelers, with each ticket costing about NT$800 on average. It was an attractive option for those who did not want to be stuck in traffic on the freeway.
Domestic air carriers have gradually stopped operating flights on the west coast after the high-speed rail started operating.
They first canceled flights between Taipei and Taichung, and between Taipei and Chiayi, in 2007. The flights between Taipei and Tainan and those between Taipei and Pintung were canceled in 2008 and last year.
The Taipei-Hengchun service is the only flight service available on the west coast. Its operator, Uni Air, has been given permission by the CAA to reduce the flights from three to two per week.
The cancelation of the Taipei-Kaohsiung service has drawn mixed reactions from travelers. Seats on the last two Taipei-Kaohsiung flights — one departing from Taipei and the other departing from Kaohsiung — were sold out, as the flights had attracted many aviation fans who wanted to witness the end of an era.
Grace Tsao (曹純菱), a resident of Greater Kaohsiung, said she was not particularly sad to hear that the flight service was no longer available.
“I was not impressed by the service at all,” she said. “It [the flight] costs more than a high-speed rail ticket and you may not even get a plane ticket, even if you arrive at the airport early. Since not many people take the flights anymore, it is pointless to ask the flight carrier to continue offering it [the service].”