The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said its plan to improve two small airports in Matsu was drawn up to meet transportation needs and not for the development of the casino business on the islands.
The explanation was given in response to casino operators who have called for the government to expand Beigan Airport on Beigan Island (北竿島) to accommodate passenger jets with larger passenger capacities, rather than the smaller turboprops the airports can currently handle.
They issued the call after the Cabinet approved a draft bill on Thursday that regulates casinos and governs their operations, paving the way for the establishment of the nation’s first casino resort in Matsu.
The CAA said that the Beigan Airport improvement plan was drawn up to meet residents’ demands for more efficient air links between Taiwan proper and their islands.
The agency delivered the plan to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications late last month for approval. Under the plan, Beigan Airport would be upgraded from a “2C” classification to “3C.”
To meet “3C” criteria, Beigan’s runway must be lengthened from 1,150m to between 1,200m and 1,800m.
The terminal’s navigation systems must also be improved so that the minimum visibility requirement can be reduced from 2,400m to between 1,600m and 2,000m, so the percentage of flights disrupted by fog or other weather conditions can be reduced.
The cost of the upgrades is estimated at about NT$8 billion (US$268 million).
However, the proposed improvements will only allow the airport to accommodate propeller aircraft, although of a slightly larger size, allowing passenger capacity to be increased from 56 people per flight to 72, the agency said.
It said upgrading to a “4C”-class airport would cost about NT$10 billion.
Developing the casino industry in Matsu and caring for people’s transportation needs are two “completely different” issues, an agency spokesman said.
The agency is also working to upgrade the navigation systems of Nangan Airport on Nangan Island (南竿島) to allow nighttime take-offs from the hillside airport.
If the upgrades are about the gambling sector, “it should be those in the industry who should do something about it,” the official said.
US-based Weidner Resorts has expressed serious interest in building a casino resort in Matsu.