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Mainland scrambles to help Taiwan airlines
By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-18 05:48

The General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) will handle applications by Taiwanese airlines to fly through mainland airspace as soon as possible, a senior official said yesterday.

"It will take some time (to process the applications) but related work will be completed very soon," said Pu Zhaozhou, director of the CAAC's Office of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, the director explained that some technical problems have to be solved through talks between civil aviation experts from across the Straits before approval is granted.

"Most of the problems concern the flight routes applied for by Taiwanese airlines," Pu said. "Some flight routes may differ from the existing ones over the mainland airspace. If they do, we must try to find a solution."

The announcement marks the first time Beijing has officially elaborated on the issue. Taiwan's "premier" Frank Hsieh announced on August 3 that the island will allow its airlines to use mainland airspace to reduce flying time and cut fuel costs.

On Monday, Taiwan's "ministry of transportation and communications" formally announced Taiwanese carriers could apply to the Civil Aeronautics Administration under the "ministry" and the CAAC from the following day.

Taiwanese airlines now avoid mainland airspace on flights to Europe and South Asia by passing either north over Russia or south over Southeast Asia. Taipei has banned its carriers from flying over the mainland since 1949 because of stated security concerns.

Pu, however, stressed yesterday that the mainland's policy of welcoming Taiwanese airlines to fly over mainland airspace remains unchanged.

During the Iraq War in 2003, the mainland opened its airspace to Taiwanese carriers. At the time, Taiwan's authorities permitted China Airlines and EVA Airways Corp - the island's two largest carriers - to fly through mainland airspace rather than through the Middle East.

Some Taiwanese carriers have expressed their delight over Taipei's move to ease the ban, saying they are ready to file applications.

Lee Chih-chiang, a Beijing-based sales manager for China Airlines, confirmed that his company lodged an application with the CAAC on Tuesday. "Our headquarters in Taipei filed the application by telegram," he said.

Earlier Taiwanese media reports said four Taiwanese carriers will apply for a total of 18 flight routes. These include 10 for China Airlines, six for EVA Airways and one each for Mandarin Airlines and UNI Airways. It is estimated that by using mainland airspace the four Taiwanese carriers could save at least T$360 million (US$11.3 million) in jet fuel costs a year and shorten flying time to Europe by nearly two hours.  

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