As Taiwan and the mainland sealed a deal on the introduction of weekend charter flights, and eventually direct flights throughout the week, it remained unclear whether Hong Kong's airlines would be able to seize a slice of the pie. In the memorandum on cross-strait charter flight negotiations signed by Chen Yunlin of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and Chiang Pin-kung of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation yesterday, the two sides agreed that 'each side would appoint flight operators at an equal number'. Hong Kong has for decades been the transit stop for up to 70 per cent of Taiwanese residents travelling back and forth to the mainland. There have been direct flights in recent years only during festivals. The introduction of weekend charter flights next month will change all that. It is expected that six airlines from each side will negotiate for the initial 36 return flights a week - and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific and Dragonair are not on the list. Arats executive vice-chairman Sun Yafu did not respond when asked yesterday whether Hong Kong airlines would be able to join negotiations in the future as the number of charter flights increased. Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and Shanghai Airlines from the mainland side now provide 'festival charter flights'. The appointed six on the Taiwanese side are China Airlines, EVA Air, Mandarin Airlines, UNI Air, TransAsia Airways and Far Eastern Air Transport. In the memorandum, the two sides also agreed to discuss cargo charter flights three months after the implementation of weekend passenger charter flights. They pledged to start discussions on regular direct flights as soon as possible. As to the route, both sides agreed that before direct flights begin, the weekend charter flights would still have to fly into Hong Kong's air space, whether the destination is Guangzhou or Beijing. Taiwan has been reluctant to see charter flights fly directly across the Taiwan Strait because of military sensitivities. On Thursday, Mr Chiang revealed that the number of flights would increase gradually after the Olympics, a delay requested by Mr Chen due to higher security risks during the Games.