Historic deal may be too late because most Taiwanese on the mainland who want to go home have already bought tickets Taiwanese airlines have expressed concerns about finding enough passengers to fill Lunar New Year charter flights to and from the mainland after a historic deal was struck in Macau on Saturday. 'I am worried about whether we can find enough passengers to fill the planes in such a short time,' said Fan Chih-chiang, head of TransAsia Airways. Under the landmark agreement, the two sides will each have six airlines flying a total of 48 flights between January 29 and February 20, to transport Taiwanese working on the mainland. The Lunar New Year holiday starts on February 8. The flights have a total capacity of 9,600 seats. But since more than 80 per cent of Taiwanese businessmen planning to go home for the holidays have already bought their tickets, airlines officials said they would be happy to fill 60 per cent of the seats. The flights will service Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou on the mainland, and Taipei and Kaohsiung on Taiwan. Chen Mei-wen, president of Far Eastern Air Transport, said Guangzhou's proximity to Hong Kong may result in fewer businessmen taking this route back to Taiwan. In 2003, the two sides allowed six Taiwanese airlines to take businessmen working in Shanghai home for the holiday, with Hong Kong or Macau as a stopover. However, the services were a failure in economic terms, as no more than 40 per cent of Taiwanese businessmen who returned home took the flights. Costs were also heavy because the airlines had to fly empty to Shanghai. But Yeh Hui-teh, of the Taiwanese Businessmen Association in Shanghai, said he was not as concerned about this year's air-charter services. 'Since last week, more than 200 businessmen have called to book charter flights,' he said. Travel agencies in Taiwan pointed out that the 20 per cent of the businessmen who had bought tickets were previously unable to get a flight home as all regular services were fully booked. Transport Vice-minister Tsai Dui said yesterday the island's aviation authorities would co-ordinate with local airlines to provide full refunds to allow those who had pre-booked return flights to switch to the special charters. Civil Aeronautics Administration director Billy Chang Kuo-cheng, who represented Taiwan in the Macau talks with the mainland, said the charter flights could help passengers save about NT$5,000 ($1,222) and two hours of flying time. The six Taiwanese airlines involved - China Airlines, EVA Airways, Mandarin Airlines, UNI Airways, Far Eastern Air Transport and TransAsia Airways - said they would operate the charter flights regardless of whether they made a profit. Airline officials said they did not want to miss the opportunity to be involved in such a historic event, and most importantly were aiming for direct flights after the two sides agreed on transport links in the future. The six mainland airlines reportedly involved are Air China, China Southern, Xiamen Airlines, China Eastern, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.