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Airlines welcome Ma’s cross-strait flight plan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- All the airline firms yesterday welcomed a timetable by presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) to open cross-strait flights, saying they would be glad to see its realization.

In a meeting with representatives from local high-tech and venture capital sectors, Ma unveiled his cross-strait flight agenda, under which weekend charter flights between China and Taiwan would be introduced by July 1; daily charter flights by the end of this year, and regular cross-strait direct flights by June 2009.

In response, Fan Chi-chiang, chairman of both the Taipei Aviation Association and Trans Asia Airways, said cross-strait direct flights are beneficial to the aviation industry, so such a proposal — whether raised by Ma or his counterpart Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — is welcomed by local airline firms.

Fan continued that since domestic airline firms are plagued both by high fuel prices and the opening of the high-speed rail system, they are pinning their hopes on the opening of direct cross-strait flights.

Chang You-peng, public relations manager of the financially troubled Far East Air Transport Corp., said that his company would not be absent from the direct cross-strait routes, and would demand reasonable interests for the firm in the new market.

Chang said opening the direct flights is a timely shot in the arm to the firm’s finances, and marks a significant turning point for its operations.

Meanwhile, Chen Peng-yu, public relations manager of China Airlines (CAL), now Taiwan’s largest air carrier, said that CAL would welcome such a proposal made by anyone, as it is conducive to the aviation sector.

As for EVA Airways, the island’s no. 2 airline firms, the company foresaw no problem in readying its fleet and crews for weekend charter flights between Taiwan and China by July 1.

Meanwhile, Ma yesterday also pledged to open Taiwan to Chinese tourists, with an initial daily quota of 3,000 people. The quota would be increased to 5,000 people the second year, 7,000 in the third, and 10,000 in the fourth.

In response to the encouraging news, most tourism-related shares listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange yesterday rallied sharply. The share price of Grand Formosa Regent Taipei, for instance, immediately hit the daily 7-percent ceiling limit to challenge the level of NT$500 per share.

Institutional investors estimated that based on the daily arrival of 10,000 mainland Chinese tourists, the resultant tourism revenue would hit a high of NT$200 billion per year, a big pie that the local hospitality industry would enjoy.

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