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Flight routes may decrease gradually

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- New Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Director-General Lee Lung-wen said yesterday that flight routes in western Taiwan could be gradually decreased in number.

Lee made the remarks to address Trans Asia Airways' application to give up its flights on the Taipei-Tainan and Taipei-Kaohsiung routes, leaving Mandarin Airlines the only operator of the Taipei Kaohsiung route.

Lee noted that inauguration of the high-speed train last year, which reduces travel time between Taipei and Kaohsiung to 90 minutes from the previous four hours, has greatly affected air carriers plying the western Taiwan flight routes.

"But we won't be able to decide whether to cancel flight routes in western Taiwan completely at present," Lee added.

He said that fuel cost increases have caused difficulties for air carriers and that the government will provide "timely assistance to help tide over difficulties."

But he also said the air carriers cannot depend solely on government assistance, noting that bail-out measures have been extended only until the end of this year.

The government will continue to observe market changes and will come up with various measures to cope with new situation next year.

Lee noted that domestic air transport reached its peak between 1997 and 1998, when the number of carriers increased to six.

On whether carriers should merge, he said that it is not up to the government to decide and that "it will depend on the willingness of the carriers. "

Lee took over the post from Billy K.C. Chang in a ceremony presided over by Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chih-kuo earlier in the day.

Mao expressed hope that Lee will first and foremost address the issue of flight safety.

He noted that civil aviation has been dealt a severe blow with the surging fuel costs and the inauguration of the bullet train, but he urged Lee to seize the chance of the opening of direct weekend cross-Taiwan Strait charter flights earlier this month to create new opportunities.

Mao also asked Lee to develop the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport into an "aviation city" and to upgrade its facilities to enhance international competitiveness.

Chang, who had served for more than six years as the CAA's head, was a rare phenomenon in the administration, where frequent personnel changes are the norm.

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