HK, Taiwan clear way for more flights
Fanny W. Y. Fung and Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Hong Kong and Taiwan are ready to sign a new civil aviation agreement that is expected to increase daily flights between the two places. It is the first deal between them since the handover in 1997.
The travel industry hopes the deal will help Hong Kong to see off competition from mainland cities and attract more Taiwanese visitors.
Cathay Pacific Airway's chief executive John Slosar said last week that the airline was interested in one or two more daily flights in addition to the current 108 round-trip flights.
The deal comes after protracted talks which have seen the two sides overcome long-standing political obstacles. The existing agreement, which regulates the routes and number of flights between Hong Kong and Taiwan, was first signed in 1996 when the city was a British colony. It has been extended eight times since.
Cross-strait ties have eased since Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008, and Taiwanese travellers now enjoy more direct cross-strait flights. Hong Kong faces competition for mainlanders, with Taiwan receiving individual travellers from across the strait next month.
Hong Kong and Taiwan wanted to upgrade the old agreement, but political sensitivities limited official contact after the handover and negotiations started only last year.
A Taiwanese government official familiar with the negotiation said a new agreement would probably be signed 'by the end of this month'.
In the past, aviation agreements between the two were handled by commercial organisations: Cathay Pacific for Hong Kong and Taipei Airlines Association for Taiwan. This time it was done by the local Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council (ECCPC) and its Taipei-based counterpart Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council (ECCC), two semi-official agencies established last year.
A Hong Kong person with knowledge of the negotiations said the city was following the model set out in cross-strait negotiations between the mainland and Taiwan: both sides were represented by government officials but the negotiation was held through semi-official agencies.
'Their transport ministry has an official holding the capacity as a director of the ECCC [Administrative Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Kuo Tsai-wen] and our transport bureau also has an official [Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing Francis Ho Suen-wai] sitting on the ECCPC. The deal will be signed using the names of the two councils, but in fact the two governmental bodies are the ones in charge,' the person said.