Flights to Taiwan first in decades
After a half-century without non-stop airline links between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, nine charter flights took place on Saturday under a cross-Straits agreement for Spring Festival travel.
Six mainland planes landed in Taipei and one in the southern city of Kaohsiung for the first time in 56 years. Meanwhile, Taiwan's China Airlines and EVA Airways operated two non-stop flights from Taipei to Beijing the first since 1949.
Flight CA1087 of the mainland's flag carrier Air China departed from the Beijing Capital International Airport at 8 am for Taipei, becoming the first mainland commercial plane to take off.
Charter flight CZ3097 of China Southern Airlines, however, was the first mainland aircraft to land in Taiwan after a 90-minute journey between Guangzhou and Taipei.
"The dream that we had over the past 56 years finally came true today," said Chen Yunlin, minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, upon the arrival of CAL's CI581 in Beijing.
Since 1949, the Taiwan authorities have imposed a ban on trade, postal and transport links with the mainland.
In 2003, six Taiwanese airlines operated 16 charter flights between Taipei, Kaohsiung and Shanghai, with stopovers in Hong Kong or Macao. Meanwhile, mainland carriers were excluded from the indirect charter flight arrangement.
John Chang, a Kuomintang "lawmaker" who initiated the cross-Straits charter flight programme in 2002, compared Saturday's flights to "swallows that foretell the coming of spring."
"The successful launching of such charter flights has fully demonstrated that both sides of the Straits have enough wisdom, farsight and patience to solve existing problems," he told a celebration ceremony to mark the start of the historic flights in Beijing.
"We hope the charter flights will help ease cross-Straits tensions and improve bilateral relations."
Hopes for direct links
Li Jiaxiang, president of Air China, expressed his wish for an early realization of direct air links between Taiwan and the mainland to make it more convenient for travellers from both sides.
"It is the common aspiration of all people across the Straits that the charter flights could become regular air services to save time and money," he said.
China Airlines President Phillip Wei said his company was glad to participate in the charter flight programme despite a predicted loss for its four round-trip charter flights.
"We are proud of running the first and historic flight between Taipei and Beijing," he said.
Many passengers returned to their ports of departure on the same aircraft on Saturday after joining flights just to be a part of the memorable moment, airline officials said.
The nine charter planes all returned to their home bases later Saturday, transporting a total of 2,200 mainland-based Taiwan business people and their relatives.
The charter flights will run until February 20 between the mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taipei, Kaohsiung in Taiwan.
The one-time scheme allows six mainland and six Taiwanese airlines to operate a total of 48 round-trip charter flights during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
Only mainland-based Taiwanese business people and their relatives can participate.