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Taipei airport being renovated

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taipei Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei is undergoing renovation for being transformed from a domestic hub into an international gateway to serve cross-Taiwan Strait flight routes.

Director Shiau Deng-ke of the Songshan Airport Director Shiau Deng-ke said yesterday that the first terminal building will be used for international flight operations while all domestic flight services will be transferred to the airport's second terminal following the launch of direct cross-strait charter flights on July 4.

The charter flights have been deemed as a potential catalyst to Taiwan's economy, especially among local airports serving domestic routes that have encountered hard times over the past 10 years.

Only Taiwan's two main international gateways — Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Kaohsiung International Airport — were profitable among the country's 18 airports in 2006, with domestic-oriented airports hurt by declining passenger traffic.

At its peak in 1997, Taipei Songshan Airport handled 15.4 million passengers and served 10 million passengers as recently as 2001.

But traffic plummeted to 6.73 million passengers in 2006 and has declined further in the past year and a half with the opening in 2007 of a high-speed rail system along Taiwan's populated western corridor.

Due to falling traffic numbers, the airport has had little incentive to refurbish its aging terminals, and Lien Sheng-wen, a member of the ruling Kuomintang's policy-making Central Standing Committee, recently criticized the airport as being even worse than North Korea's Pyongyang Airport.

But Shiau said improvements are being made in the first stage of the airport's renovation, which includes upgrades to the airport's electrical systems, bathrooms, and broadcasting and security systems.

Shiau noted that the airport's management has prepared mid- and long term projects to improve the facility, which was built for military use during the Japanese occupation era.

The airport was inaugurated for solely civil aviation services in 1950 and served as Taiwan's main international gateway until 1979, when the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport opened.

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