Nearly nine years after starting operations, Hengchun Airport only has one airstrip in use and the three staff members only serve two flights per week, prompting the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) to consider turning the airfield over to the Ministry of National Defense for military use.
Plans for the airport were drawn up in 1998, but the project was not placed for public bidding until 2000. Construction on the airport finished at the end of 2003, with an estimated NT$500 million (US$17 million) invested in its construction.
As the airport is adjacent to the military’s helicopter brigade apron, it is one of the few airports in the nation that is used for both civilian and military purposes.
The government had high expectations of turning the airport into a tourist-centric flight lane, and Mandarin Airlines, Uni Air and TransAsia Airways had all assigned planes to fly that particular route after the airport opened in 2004.
However, it was soon discovered that north-eastern seasonal winds which blow across the Heng-chun Peninsula area in the winter would often force pilots to land in Greater Kaohsiung’s Hsiaokang International Airport as the airport only used visual landings and did not have an air traffic control tower.
TransAsia Airways and Mandarin Airlines were the first to pull out of the Hengchun route in 2007, leaving Uni Air the sole remaining airline to run a flight between Taipei and Hengchun with two flights per week.
Despite the administration’s efforts to revitalize the airport’s use by proposing that it become an airport catering to ultralight aviation, the weather issue once again blocked the way, with an additional obstacle being the military base beside the airfield.
Not a lot of companies in the ultralight flying field want to be based right beside a military base, the administration said.
Despite the route being the last airway connecting Taipei and Hengchun over the western half of the country, administration statistics from January and last month show that passenger rates for the route were less than 30 percent this year.
The administration had asked Uni Air to continue to operate the route despite the airline having expressed its wish to cease operations.
The administration is currently mulling the possibility of having the military take over the management of the airfield, the administration said, adding that it would not be difficult to merge the civilian part of the airstrip with the military part as only barbed wire and fences separated the two parts.