Nonstop charter flights to start tomorrow
Chinese mainland jetliners are scheduled to begin touching down in airports on the Taiwan island on Saturday for the first time since 1949.
The flights - operating only for the Chinese New Year holiday - mark a rare break in feuding across the Taiwan Strait.
Thousands of Taiwanese travel to the Chinese mainland each year. They have become increasingly fed up with the current policy, which requires them to stop at a third point when flying to and from the Chinese mainland.
The transit points usually are Hong Kong or Macau. The stopover usually turns a trip that could take just a few hours into a daylong excursion.
The Chinese New Year flights, which last through Feb. 20, will be carrying Taiwanese businesspeople back home for the holiday, which begins Feb. 9.
It is estimated that 300,000 Taiwanese live and work on the mainland - the destination for more than half of Taiwan's overseas investment.
The flights will have to pass through Hong Kong's airspace, but won't have to land before continuing to Taiwan.
Six Chinese mainland airlines, including Air China, can fly the route. A total of 48 roundtrip flights will be allowed.
Six airlines from Taiwan will also make the flights between the mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Taiwan's two biggest cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung.
Airports on both sides were ready to celebrate the landmark event with traditional dragon dances and red banners. The mainland airline officials told Taiwanese television that flight attendants would greet the passengers in the Taiwanese dialect and will serve them the island's popular snacks.
Many Taiwanese hope the flights could herald regular direct air and sea services.
Both sides recently showed flexibility and agreed to negotiate the New Year flights as a private deal between airline representatives. Barring formal dialogue, the model could be used to hammer out similar deals in the future, analysts said.
"If the atmosphere is good, there can be charter flights for religious pilgrimages, and there can even be weekly or daily charter flights," said Yen Chen-sheng, a researcher at the Institute for International Relations.
Taiwan airlines also provided charter flights two years ago during the Chinese New Year, but the flights had to stop in Hong Kong and Macau when flying to and from the Chinese mainland.