Mainland, Taiwan launch first nonstop flights in 56 years
Civil aircraft of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan took off from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Taipei respectively Saturday morning, kicking off the first ever non-stop, round-trip charter flights across the Taiwan Strait in 56 years.
This was also the first time since 1949 that the mainland jetliner headed for Taiwan in normal commercial flights.
Air China charter flight CA1087, which departed from the Beijing Capital Airport at 8 a.m. Saturday for Taipei, was the first mainland jet to take off. Some 88 passengers aboard the plane were all Taiwan business people and their families homebound for traditional family reunion during the upcoming Spring Festival, or the Chinese lunar new year.
But, charter flight CZ3097 of the China Southern Airlines with 242 passengers aboard, which left Guangzhou almost the same time as the Air China flight, was the first mainland aircraft to land in Taiwan after a 90-minute journey.
"We will break the 56-year-long isolation between civil aviation sectors across the Strait in only 100 minutes," Hao Jianhua, chief pilot of the flight, had told Xinhua in an exclusive interview Friday.
And it actually took even less time. The plane, which took off from the Guangzhou airport at around 8 a.m. Saturday, touched down at about 9:27 am. "We have made history," said a senior manager of China Southern Airlines.
It took more than four hours for the Air China jetliner to fly from Beijing to Taipei. But the air route by way of Hong Kong without stop can save 6 hours of flying time and two thirds of passengers' airfare.
Taiwan flight lands in Beijing
A charter plane of Taiwan-based China Airlines, ferrying more than 200 passengers, landed in Beijing Saturday noon after about 4-hours of non-stop flight.
It previously took around 10 hours to make the same trip, which included compulsory stopover in either Hong Kong or Macao.
Previously, travelers flying between the mainland and Taiwan must stop over at a third destination, usually Hong Kong and Macao.
Charter flights of the Shanghai Airlines and the Xiamen Airlines departed from Shanghai, bound for Kaohsiung and Taipei Saturday. Jets of Taiwan-based China Airlines and Eva Airlines, carrying relatives of Taiwan business people who would stay in the mainland during the Spring Festival period, flew from Taipei to Beijing.
The Saturday flights marked the beginning of a three-week-long special charter flight scheme, under which 12 airlines of the mainland and Taiwan would run 48 non-stop, round-trip flights exclusively for the Taiwan business people and their families.
The mainland and Taiwan civil aviation professionals reached consensus about the launch of the charter flights earlier this month in Macao. The two sides agreed to run the flights from Jan. 29 to Feb. 20 between mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and Taiwan's Taipei and Kaohsiung.
The charter flights were warmly welcomed by the Taiwan business people and their relatives. China Southern Airlines sources revealed that some of the passengers on board its plane had booked round-trip tickets simply to bear witness to this important journey. "They would also be on the plane when it returns in the afternoon," said the sources.
The international community have also shown enthusiasm toward the successful non-stop commercial flights.
"We welcome cross-strait flights during the Chinese New Year holiday period," the State Department of the United States said in a statement.
In 2003, Taiwan civil jetliners were allowed for the first time since 1949 to fly to the mainland under a similar charter flight scheme. However, due to restrictions of the Taiwan authorities, the flights had to make stopovers in Hong Kong or Macao and no mainland airlines were involved.