Airlines start applying to fly over mainland
Jacky Hsu in Taipei
Taipei officials yesterday started accepting applications from Taiwanese airlines for permission to fly through mainland airspace as Beijing agreed in principle to discuss charter flights based on a system operating through Macau.
'We officially started accepting the airlines' applications from today to fly over the mainland,' said Lin Chi-ming, aviation director of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
If everything went smoothly, the first flight from Taiwan was expected to fly through mainland airspace by Monday, Mr Lin said.
Taiwan has banned flights over the mainland since 1949, but temporarily allowed its airlines to fly through mainland airspace because of safety concerns during the US-led war against Iraq in 2003.
Premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting announced earlier this month that Taiwanese airlines would be permitted to fly through mainland airspace, a decision hailed by airline operators because the move could cut annual costs by about NT$300 million ($73 million) each.
Taiwan's two big carriers, China Airlines and EVA Airways, said yesterday they had already applied for the flights. China Airlines said it planned to fly five passenger and five cargo routes over the mainland, with expected savings of NT$260 million a year.
Meanwhile in Beijing, Chen Yunlin , director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said the mainland was willing to consider a more effective and practical approach to push for the launch of direct cross-strait passenger and cargo charters.
It includes borrowing the Macau system, under which airline associations from the two sides negotiated the Lunar New Year holiday charter flights earlier this year, Mr Chen said.
He made the comment after meeting officials from the opposition Kuomintang in Beijing. The group, led by Tseng Yung-chuan, director of the party's Central Policy Committee, went to Beijing on Monday to discuss the charter issue with Mr Chen.
Mr Tseng said the mainland was willing to simultaneously discuss and launch cargo and passenger charters.