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May 26, 2017

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Gov't picks inferior option for airport: lawmaker

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The decision of the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) to ease the restrictions on building height in the area south of the Taipei Songshan Airport last week may cause safety problems for flights and people living and working in the area, according to Legislator Ting Shou-chung of the opposition Kuomintang.

Ting said the Mott MacDonald Group of Britain commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) to conduct a feasibility study had actually submitted two proposals, but the Cabinet decided to adopt the one that may cause greater problems.

According to a copy of the evaluation report and proposals obtained by Ting, the consulting firm presented the better choice of raising the ceiling to 110 meters from the present 60 meters only for high-rise buildings located in a one-kilometer strip of two to three km from the runway.

Ting pointed out that the consultants clearly noted that this suggestion was a better choice.

The report also stressed the height restrictions are needed for the sake of safety.

A second option was to raise the height of the buildings to 90 meters from the present 60 meters for those located within a much larger radius of three km from the runway.

Aviation safety experts also noted that the second proposal, that was adopted by the Cabinet, does possess several major drawbacks, including threats to flight safety and the possible blocking of radio communications.

There will also be other problems, including noise pollution, worsening viability problems in bad weather conditions, a reduced number of flights and the exclusion of the wide-body long-haul passenger jets.

More troubles could occur when certain pilots have to pull up for a new try on landing during certain emergency situations, they said.

Ting charged that the MOTC, its Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the Cabinet had deliberately withheld the details of the two proposals from the public.

It is obvious that the Cabinet simply chose to ignore the experts' suggestions, said Ting.

Despite its flaws, the second proposal would create tremendous business opportunities amounting to more than NT$1 trillion, according to some estimates.

In response, CAA Director General Billy Chang clarified that both options are feasible.

But the first proposal to confine the relaxation on high-rise buildings located in the one-km strip has only "limited development value," he explained.

Chang said the report pointed out the possible problems concerning noise and the blocking of wireless communications.

But the actual test flights carried out by the CAA show no such problems at all.

He also said the number of flights and the models of planes will remain unchanged both for now and in the future.

He rebuked again the allegation that the relaxation of the building code for a much larger area is one of the tactics of the administration of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to help its legislative and presidential candidates win ballots in the upcoming elections.

There were complaints that the airport — with much higher buildings shooting up nearby — will no longer be suitable for the larger planes for cross-strait direct flights between Taiwan and China in the future as proposed by the KMT.

The current government will not allow such a direct flight route, according to some MOTC officials who said that the Cabinet could have chosen an inferior option.

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