Taiwan-China Air Links Face Shortage of Slots at Mainland Cities

Taiwan’s development of air links with China is now limited more by practical constraints on the mainland, including a shortage of slots at airports, than by political concerns, the island’s civil-aviation chief said.

Taiwan’s airlines are interested in adding capacity to major cities including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, rather than to secondary centers such as Xi’an and Chengdu, Civil Aeronautics Administration Director-General Jean Shen said in an interview in Montreal yesterday.

For the most popular destinations, “there are no slots, capacity is full and it’s very difficult to increase flights,” said Shen, a 64-year-old former air-traffic controller who is leading the guest delegation to the International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly. China’s reluctance to open secondary airports to cross-strait traffic and airspace controls also limit capacity, she said. The number of direct flights on each side will rise to 670 a week by the end of the year, she said.

The nation’s air force controls airspace and allots only 20 percent to civil aviation, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. With China’s three biggest airlines planning to add at least 273 planes in the next three years, traffic congestion that already delays 25 percent of flights is set to worsen, the agency said in May.

Taiwan and China started regular direct flights in 2008, almost six decades after Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang party fled to Taiwan during a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists and barred all direct contact with the mainland. Carriers including Taiwan’s China Airlines Ltd. and Eva Airways Corp. and the mainland’s Air China Ltd., China Eastern Airlines Corp. and China Southern Airlines Co. provide cross-strait flights.

Smooth Talks

Shen said proposed increases in flights have faced no opposition at twice-yearly mainland-Taiwan meetings on air service rights. The two sides haven’t yet started talks for an open skies agreement, she said.

In addition to allowing for direct air links, the improvement in relations with the mainland in the past five years has allowed Taiwan to participate, as a guest, in the ICAO assembly for the first time since it lost its seat in the United Nations aviation agency in 1971. The two-week meeting starts in Montreal today.

The delegation has no plans for a formal meeting with its mainland counterparts in Montreal, Shen said.

Taiwan’s envoys to the meeting will meet with other nations’ representatives, Shen said. The island, which adheres to ICAO standards for civil aviation, would eventually like to improve its access to the group’s documents and data, she said.

Cross-strait ties improved after President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 and abandoned the pro-independence stance of his predecessor. China deems Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened reunification by force if the island declares independence.

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