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MOTC aims for budget carriers at secondary airports

The China Post news staff--The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) is planning to attract low-cost carriers to operate at secondary airports in Taiwan by allowing them to pay lower air terminal service fees, such as landing fees, so as to revive smaller local airports, MOTC Minister Mao Chi-kuo said yesterday.

Mao made the remarks at the Transportation Committee session of the Legislative Yuan held to screen the 2013 fiscal budget proposal raised by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) under the MOTC.

Mao said that the MOTC is mapping out differential air terminal service fees at major airports, namely Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Taipei Songshan Airport, and secondary ones including Kaohsiung Xiaogang Airport, Taichung International Airport and airports in the eastern counties of Hualien and Taitung.

Mao continued by saying that attracting low-cost carriers to operate at secondary local airports will not only revive the operation of such airports and bolster the development of the local tourism industry, but will also help to ease the air traffic jam at the Taoyuan and Songshan airports.

The minister was responding to lawmakers calling for the MOTC to offer incentives to attract low-cost carriers to operate in secondary local airports to spawn the development of local tourism and help such airports regain growth momentum.

Lawmakers Lee Kuen-zer, Liu Chao-hao and Wei Ming-ku of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party issued the call at the Transportation Committee session. They said that low-cost flight operations have developed rapidly in Europe and Asia and will become a worldwide trend in the future, but it its still burgeoning in Taiwan.

At the moment, the lawmakers noted, there are only 11 budget airlines operating at airports in Taiwan, including nine at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and one each at Taipei Songshan Airport and Kaohsiung Xiaogang Airport, with their combined volume accounting for only 3 percent of total flight operations at airports on the island.

Accordingly, the lawmakers continued, attracting more international budget airlines to operate either regular or chartered flights will effectively bring in more tourists, especially backpackers, from Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia and other regions in Asia.

On the same occasion, Shen Chi, director-general of the CAA, said several budget airlines are planning fact-finding tours of the eastern counties and Hualien and Taitung to explore the possibility of operating at airports there.

Some lawmakers, however, were worried that domestic tourism may be undermined by the low-cost flights between Taiwan and Asian cities. At the moment, the ticket fare for a Taipei-Taitung fight offered by local airlines is now set at NT$2,300, but the fare for the Taipei-Osaka flight offered by budget airlines reaches only NT$2.700. The low cost, lawmakers said, would prompt local people to make trips to Osaka instead of making trips within the island.

A budget airline usually justifies its low fees by cutting costs through a number of methods. Popular practices include adopting an all-economy or all-coach seating format, providing “meal options” to be paid for separately, and using “first-come, first-served” seating, which means that the plane is boarded like a bus and seats go to whomever takes them first.

To cut operating costs even further, a budget airline might also operate regionally rather than globally, fly short flights of a maximum 6 hours each way, and operate either out of a secondary airport or at non-peak times at a primary flight hub. Although some people complain that there are hardly any amenities given out to passengers of budget airlines, the overall popularity of budget airlines is on the rise.

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