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Subsidies take offshore air traffic to new high

The government's air ticket subsidies to residents living on major offshore islands have continued soaring and the amount is projected to rise to more than NT$500 million this year. The number of air passengers between the islands and Taiwan is also expected to continue rising.

Under the new amendments to the Statute for Development of Offshore Islands in April 2011, the minimum subsidies to the air ticket prices for inhabitants of offshore islands were increased to 30 percent, up from at least 20 percent of the ticket price.

Air ticket subsidies to residents on main offshore islands like Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu stand at 30 percent. But the subsidies for residents of other smaller islands like Green Island and Lanyu (Orchid Island) have been at 40 percent.

Before the hike, government subsidies amounted to NT$350 million in 2010. The amount shot up to NT$470 million last year.

The figure has already reached NT$264 million for the first half of this year and the total is projected to pass the NT$500 million mark for the first time this year, said officials at the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

In addition to the rise for ticket subsidies to no less than 30 percent, other major factors for the steady and steep rise in the government's expenditures in the area include the steady increase in the number of qualified residents, although the birthrates for the offshore islands continue to decline.

In order to take advantage of the ticket price subsidies, many people in Taiwan with business operations in mainland China have transferred their household registrations to the offshore islands to save on transport costs.

After the opening of more schools in Penghu and Kinmen, many students from Taiwan have also moved their household registrations to the islands from Taiwan.

CAA officials said the increased air ticket subsidies also attracted more travelers to take air transport and encouraged air carriers to provide more air flights.

Some airlines even voluntarily slash their ticket prices by 50 percent for certain flights to lure more air passengers.

The continuing intensification of interactions between Penghu and southern Kaohsiung City raised the number of air passengers from Penghu's Makung Airport to Kaohsiung to 650,000 in 2011.

CAA officials said the steep increases in air ticket subsidies have exceeded the government's budgeted funds for the purpose every year.

But residents in Kinmen and Matsu warmly welcomed the government's subsidies because the financial support enables them to take families to Taiwan to visit relatives and friends during summer and winter breaks.

However, they said there are still problems with ticket shortages during peak travel seasons, especially before the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays when people return home for family reunions.

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