Taiwan businessman Su Tzu-shuo can tell that his two teenage daughters miss him when he talks to them by phone from his Shanghai clothing factory, so he plans to return to Taipei for the Lunar New Year holiday. But this trip is special. Mr Su will be one of more than 1,000 Taiwanese to travel home on the first charter flights between the island and the mainland since the founding of the People's Republic nearly 54 years ago. 'I will be able to spend Lunar New Year together with my family,' said Mr Su, general manager of GQ Textile and Clothing. Shanghai's local Taiwan business association, which is helping to organise the historic flights, said preparations were going smoothly and the airlines expected to sell about 80 per cent of the 1,700 seats available. The flights, operated by six Taiwan airlines, still have to stop over briefly in Hong Kong or Macau, but passengers will not have to change planes. Mr Su said a true direct flight would be preferable, but he was willing to settle for the charter flight for now. 'Whether for travellers or businessmen like us, direct flights would be best. It would take just over an hour,' he said. Analysts say the charters are a step towards direct flights, which Taiwan has banned along with other direct transport and trade links since 1949. Direct transport links between Taiwan and the mainland could hurt Hong Kong and Macau, which now profit from being transit centres. Speaking in Beijing, a spokesman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office repeated yesterday the mainland's desire for direct flights. 'For resolving the inconvenience and difficulties of Taiwan compatriots coming and going across the strait, the only way is to realise direct flights as soon as possible,' spokesman Li Weiyi was quoted by Xinhua as saying. As the two sides forge closer economic links, Taiwan companies are putting pressure on the administration of President Chen Shui-bian to lift more restrictions on doing business on the mainland. Ye Hui-te, the head of Shanghai's Taiwan Investment and Enterprise Association, said the group has already submitted a request to continue charter flights on other important holidays. 'We hope that after Lunar New Year on important holidays we can extend the charter flights. Cross-strait dialogue is needed,' he said. Mainland carriers are also lobbying to fly charters and even direct flights to Taiwan. 'The airlines will definitely lose money since they are coming here empty. They are doing it for the historical significance and to offer the service to Taiwan business people,' said Antony Wu, deputy general manager of Haixiaton Express, the travel agency organising ticket sales. Tickets for the charters range from 3,700 yuan (HK$3,480) to 5,800 yuan, lower than the prices of regular flights. Despite initial brisk ticket sales for the charters, many travellers had already made arrangements before they were announced, Mr Wu said. Chou Pao-hsien, who works for a Taiwan investment company in Shanghai, said: 'I hope there will be direct flights. I hope there is a chance next year.'