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Taiwanese & Chinese carriers upbeat on cross-Taiwan Strait market growth

TAIPEI -- Airlines from both Taiwan and China expressed optimism at a ceremony in Taipei Thursday over the continuing growth of the cross-Taiwan Strait aviation market, saying that more flights would help the region's industry thrive.

“The cross-strait aviation market could perform better in 2013 than in 2012 as China's new leadership has made it clear that it would focus on gross domestic product (GDP) growth,” said Tang Wan-geng, president of Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines.

Because the aviation industry plays an important role in generating economic benefits for both Taiwan and China, Tang said he believed further cooperation would boost the sector's performance in the region.

Such cooperation could eventually lead to allowing airlines to exercise “sixth freedom” rights, said China Eastern Airlines President Ma Xu-lun at the ceremony marking a new alliance between Taiwanese and Chinese carriers.

The sixth freedom right allows an airline to transport passengers or cargo between two other states via the home state of the carrier. It is not yet allowed across the Taiwan Strait because of complicated paperwork — Chinese travelers would require special documentation to transfer through Taiwan.

Under the new alliance, Taiwan's largest international carrier China Airlines (CAL) will team up with three Chinese carriers — China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.

Member passengers of the four airlines will be entitled to benefits such as mileage accumulation and airport lounge access. The alliance will also result in the airlines sharing resources, which is expected to help them cut operating costs.

CAL Chairman Chang Chia-juch was also optimistic over the prospects of the cross-strait air transport market, explaining that an increasing number of direct flights would bring huge business opportunities.

Taiwan and China agreed last month to raise the number of regularly scheduled cross-strait flights from 558 to 616 per week, but even that was not seen as sufficient to meet growing demand.

Closer ties between cross-strait airline operators is also seen as necessary to make the overall aviation industry more efficient, Tony Tyler, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said recently.

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