The Eye on Taiwan news staff
At least 50,000 Taiwanese businessmen and their relatives based in China may not be able to return to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year holiday under a decision by the aviation authorities on the island to cut 176 additional flights applied by two mainland Chinese airlines to fly across the Taiwan Strait.
According to Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), it has put on hold applications by China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Air to fly a total of 176 additional cross-strait flights during the holiday period between Feb 15 and Feb 20.
The decision is believed to be a retaliation to Beijing’s unilateral launch of a controversial northbound M503 route on Jan 4, which Taipei has said would squeeze into the Taiwanese airspace, thereby posing risks to Taiwan’s civilian planes flying nearby.
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At its nearest point, the route is only 7.8 km, from the median line of the Taiwan Strait. It would give Taiwan less time to react should there be an air attack from the Chinese side.
Taiwanese authorities have also claimed Beijing’s unilateral launch of three other east-west extension routes — W121, W122 and W123 — on Jan 4 poses aviation threat to Taiwanese aircraft as those routes overlap with Taiwan’s W6, W8 and W2 routes to the outlying islands of Matus and Kinmen.
They have repeatedly called for talks with Beijing to resolve the issue, only to be rejected by the Chinese side, which argues that it needs more routes to alleviate air traffic and reduce flight delays due to a sharp expansion of its commercial air business.
Aviation officials in Taiwan said on Friday the denial of the applications could affect at least 50,000 passengers who want to return to Taiwan for the holiday.
“The two airlines’ requests are not approved for now because they are operating other flights using the M503 and related routes that are launched without a consensus between the two sides,” a CAA official told reporters.
Currently, there are some 200,000 Taiwanese businessmen, their relatives and students working or living in China.
CAA officials said China Eastern Airlines had applied for 106 additional flights during the holiday, while Xiamen Air applied for 70.
The applied flights by China Eastern included those from and to Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi and Hefei, and that the extra flights asked by Xiamen Air covered those from and to Hangzhou, Fuzhou, and Xiamen, the officials said.
The officials said some flights dispatched by Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen involve the four controversial routes. It is not immediately known if Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Airlines have also applied for additional flights to Taiwan during the Lunar New Year holiday period.
According to CAA, a total of 314 additional cross-strait flights were approved for the Lunar New Year holiday last year, while 535 such flights were conducted in 2016.