Air Macau set to link Taiwan and mainland
By NICHOLAS IONIDES in Macau
THE first 'semi-direct' flights between Taiwan and China are set to take off on December 8 following the signing of a commercial air agreement between Taipei and new carrier Air Macau.
The five-year deal was secured in Macau on Tuesday but needs formal approval by aviation authorities in the Portuguese enclave and Taiwan.
The Sino-Portuguese Joint Liaison Group also must give its blessing as it straddles the 1999 handover of Macau to China.
Although not specifically written into the agreement, the deal, for the first time, allows for 'through-flights' between Taiwan and China - a service previously banned under Taiwan's law governing relations with China.
The law bans direct travel by ships and commercial aircraft between Taiwan and China as well as services through third points.
Last week, Taiwan's Transport Ministry said the government had the power to relax the ban if it was in the 'national interest', and confirmed that Premier Lien Chan had agreed in principle to allow Air Macau to operate such 'one aircraft to the end' flights if an air agreement was reached.
The only provision was that flight numbers on the Taiwan-Macau and Macau-China legs be different.
Air Macau's chief executive, Ng Kian-wah, said the airline would operate such flights, with thrice weekly services to Taipei set for launch on December 8.
From January next year, there will be a fourth Taipei flight and a weekly service to Kaohsiung. From April, the Taipei service will be increased to six per week.
It would amount to about 8,000 seats for sale and fares would be set against those between Hong Kong and Taiwan, Mr Ng said. Air Macau will make its inaugural flights to Beijing and Shanghai when the enclave's new airport opens on November 9.
'This will mark the new chapter for aviation history between Macau and Taiwan,' Mr Ng said of the agreement.
'It will facilitate transport for passengers and cargo between Macau and Taiwan. It will also increase cargo movements to China from international points.' 'Changing the [flight] number is the norm. It's a commercial decision,' Mr Ng added, playing down the impact of same aircraft services.
'The negotiations were between Air Macau and Taiwan. It doesn't really involve the Chinese side.' The agreement allows for two airlines from each side to operate passenger and cargo services between Macau and Taipei or Kaohsiung, with no restrictions set on aircraft type or frequency of flights. Macau has one airline while Taiwan has several.
China Airlines, EVA Airways and TransAsia Airways have been fighting to operate services to the enclave.
It was thought EVA and TransAsia would get the government's go-ahead.
From next month, airlines from each side will be allowed to sell a maximum of 4,200 seats between the two points, with the allowance rising to 5,800 between January and March 1996 and then to 8,400 from April.
The first group of Air Macau flight attendants graduated yesterday.
The 34-strong class comprised Portuguese, Macanese, mainland Chinese and Thais.
The airline will soon take delivery of the first of four leased aircraft from California-based International Lease Finance Corp.