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Charter flight plan suffers setbacks
( 2004-01-07 00:08) (China Daily by Xing Zhigang)

The much-anticipated cross-Straits charter flight planned for the upcoming Spring Festival period is on the verge of failure as Taipei remains reluctant to take practical steps to facilitate the programme.

The China Civil Aviation Association yesterday sent a public letter to presidents of Taiwanese-funded enterprise groups blaming the Taiwan authorities for hindering the scheme.

Meanwhile, the non-governmental organization assured mainland-based Taiwan investors that transport authorities have ordered emergency measures to make it convenient for them to fly home.

The association signaled an ultimatum in the letter to Taipei, warning that further delay from the island authorities may finally ground the charter flight plan.

Time is apparently running out for arranging the charter flights as the Spring Festival falls on January 22 this year.

The mainland move has been part of recent efforts to push ahead with the programme since the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) compromised on its stance.

On December 31, Pu Zhaozhou, director of the CAAC's Office of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, said Beijing was willing to withdraw its demand for the participation of mainland airlines in the charter flight plan in the coming Chinese Lunar New Year.

The mainland will allow one-way charter flights to the mainland by Taiwanese carriers as long as the Taiwan authorities permit direct charter flights without stopovers in a third location and promise to allow the participation of mainland airlines next time, Pu said.

Taipei, however, has so far failed to respond positively to the mainland's gesture while insisting that the proposed charter flights be indirect via a third location.

"This is actually an attempt to let political disputes interfere with the charter flight programme... to set a hurdle to the establishment of direct transport links,'' the letter said.

During last year's Spring Festival, six Taiwanese airlines were allowed to operate 16 charter flights to and from the mainland for the first time in 54 years.

Mainland airlines, however, were completely excluded from running the flights.

The China Civil Aviation Association said mainland transport authorities have ordered several measures to prepare for the failure of this year's charter flight plan.

They include the arrangement of extra flights by mainland airlines to Hong Kong and Macao.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Dragonair and Air Macao will also be allowed to run more flights from the mainland to Taiwan via Hong Kong and Macao.

So far, a total of 305 extra flights have been planned to provide about 30,000 seats in the Spring Festival period.

Taiwanese businesspeople may also travel home by taking advantage of shipping links between Fujian's Xiamen and Fuzhou and Taiwan's Jinmen and Matsu.

As many as 1 million Taiwanese businesspeople and their families are estimated to live and work on the mainland and about 300,000 of them are expected to return to the island for holiday festivities.

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