The mainland and Taiwan yesterday simultaneously announced an increase in the number of direct charter flights across the Taiwan Strait within weeks, opening the way to an early normalisation of such services despite the cross-strait stalemate. The announcement on holiday charter flights was made by the Taipei Airlines Association and the Cross-Strait Aviation Transport Exchange Council - two groups entrusted by Taipei and Beijing to conduct the negotiations. The Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) under the mainland's State Council said resolving the problem of direct transport links across the Taiwan Strait was a 'pressing issue' and that Beijing was committed to pushing for their early realisation. 'We need to point out that what is announced today is not enough,' a TAO spokesman said. 'We hope that the civic body in Taiwan can continue the negotiations with our side [to realise regular direct air transport links].' In Taiwan, Joseph Wu Jau-shieh, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, said: 'After communicating with each other, the departments concerned with the two sides have agreed first to launch four types of charter services, based on the consensus reached.' These services include holiday passenger, cargo, medical and humanitarian charters, he said. He said mainland-based Taiwanese businessmen whose investments had been approved by the island's government would be allowed to send production and related equipment, components and spare parts by cargo charter to and from the mainland. 'We expect such a service should be able to be launched in two weeks after the transport ministry completes all the necessary procedures,' Mr Wu said, adding he expected regular, full charter services to be launched in four to five months as the two sides were still negotiating. Analysts said the announcement had been eagerly sought by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to bolster his sagging popularity amid a string of corruption allegations against his family. Li Jiaquan , a senior analyst in Beijing on Taiwan affairs, said he believed Taipei agreed to the flights because the Chen government wanted to let off steam. 'It helps the sentiment of the Taiwanese public and Taiwanese businessmen,' he said. 'Cross-strait relations are in a stalemate these days and [the Taiwanese authorities] want something to show that they are doing something to improve relations.' Cleared for takeoff Each side can use six airlines to operate 168 round-trip flights during four major holidays: Lunar New Year, Ching Ming, the Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival. All Taiwanese with valid travel documents issued by both sides; mainland dependents; and employees of Taiwanese businessmen holding third-country passports will be allowed to use the passenger charter service. All charter flights still need to fly over Hong Kong airspace Airports used for the passenger charters from the Taiwanese side will be Chiang Kai-shek International in Taoyuan and the international airport in Kaohsiung. Those used on the mainland will be in: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Xiamen .