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Direct links could cost HK 6% of traffic

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Hong Kong will lose up to 6 percent of passenger traffic when the "three direct links" are established between mainland China and Taiwan, outgoing Hong Kong Airport Authority chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king recently told the South China Morning Post.

The ruling Kuomintang plans to establish direct transport, trade and postal ties links starting in July, following landmark negotiations between the two semi-private organizations commissioned by their respective government to handle relations between Taiwan and China.

Figures from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) show an average of 3.68 million Taiwanese travelers passed annually through Hong Kong en route to the mainland, over the past five years.

Fung argued last week that direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland could divert an estimated 6 per cent of passenger traffic from Hong Kong's airport.

He recommended that Hong Kong Airport increases its catchment area in the Pearl River Delta region through enhanced co-operation with airports in Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau.

Also, Taiwan national carrier China Airlines announced on May 18 that two to three daily Hong Kong-Taiwan passenger flights would be cut due to increases once direct weekend charter flights between Taiwan and the mainland begin in early July.

Michael Wu, general manager of the airline's Hong Kong branch, contended that passengers would prefer to travel directly from Taiwan to the mainland in 90 minutes instead of spending half a day transiting in Hong Kong.

Wu added that some Airbus 330-300 aircraft would be redeployed to provide direct services once weekend charter flights began in July.

On a monthly basis, there are up to 3,000 flights operated by five airlines, including China Airlines, Cathay and Dragonair, between Hong Kong and Taiwan, providing nearly 1 million seats.

China Airlines also operates 18 weekly freighter flights between Hong Kong and Taiwan using Boeing 747-400Fs, a freighter that can carry 100 tonnes of cargo per flight.

But, soaring fuel prices could force some carriers to consider cutting more money-losing routes in the near future, despite continued growth in the aviation sector this year.

Further, the upcoming cross-strait charter flights are giving the Hong Kong tourism sector a bumpy ride too.

Hong Kong Taiwan Tourist Operators' Association warned travel agencies and local authorities in January to prepare for the worst as direct cross-strait flights will definitely be pushed through soon.

It speculated that the former colonial city would lose up to HK$3 billion (NT$11.64 billion) a year in travel-related revenue when cross-strait links are established.

Upgrading cross-strait relations is one of the key policies driven by President Ma Ying-jeou.

The MAC announced recently that eight airports in Taiwan, including Taoyuan near Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung would be opened to four destinations on the mainland — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xiamen — with effect from early July.

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