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1st Spring Festival charter flight takes off
Updated: 2006-01-20 13:56

Taiwan-based China Airlines charter flight CI585 took off in Taipei at 8:03 a.m. Friday and touched down at Shanghai's Pudong Airport two and a half hours later, signaling the first charter flight across the Taiwan Straits for this year's Spring Festival, which falls on January 29.

The China Airlines Airbus A333 is expected to leave Shanghai at 12:10 for a landing at Taipei at 3:30 p.m.

According to the China Airlines, the tickets for the first round trip charter flight were all sold out though the fare was raised due to oil price hike and other factors.

This is the third time Spring Festival charter flights are arranged between the Straits. Compared with 2003 and 2005, the charter flights this year will not only serve Taiwan businessmen and their relatives on the mainland, but all Taiwan residents bearing valid travel documents across the Straits.

An earlier agreement reached between the civil aviation associations of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan shows the flights are scheduled to run from January 20 to February 13 this year. Six mainland airlines and six Taiwan-based airlines are approved to provide the charter flights.

In all there will be 72 round trip flights, compared with 48 in 2005, between Taiwan and the mainland with airlines from each providing half the commercial non-stop flights.

The destinations on the mainland are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xiamen, which first appears on the destination list, and those in Taiwan remain Taipei and Kaohsiung.

The coastal city of Xiamen is less than five kilometers from Jinmen of Taiwan. The two places maintain the only direct shipping service across the Straits.

According to incomplete statistics, more than 300,000 Taiwan people working, studying or living in the Chinese mainland travel back to the island during the holiday season of the Chinese lunar New Year every year.

Industry sources expect the number of passengers who choose the charter flights this year would grow 50 percent from last year.

Figures provided by the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council show that more than 4.3 million residents from Taiwan visited the mainland between January and November last year, when indirect trade across the Straits surged to 82 billion U.S. dollars.

The launch of charter flights this year has spurred a fresh round of calls from the people across the Taiwan Straits for an early realization of the "three direct links" of trade, mail, and air and shipping services.

If the "three direct links" were established, passenger flow between Taiwan and the mainland would reach 5 million a year, which would bring in 5 billion yuan (625 million U.S. dollars) in revenue for airlines, predicted Air China President Li Jiaxiang earlier.

Since 1979, the Chinese mainland has urged an early establishment of the "three direct links" across the Straits. But the Taiwan authorities refused on the pretext of "security concern" and "technical issues."

Chinese President Hu Jintao said days ago that the "three direct links" will help intensify economic cooperation and personnel exchanges between the two sides, which is in line with the common interests of the compatriots from across the Straits.

It is also the aspiration of the business community in Taiwan.

Hu urged civil associations from the two sides to carry out consultations as earlier as possible so as to promote the achievement of the "good thing" that is well expected by the compatriots from across the Straits.

Hu's remarks, reflecting the common aspiration of the people from the two sides, has arouse another echoing wave in the island for an early establishment of the "three direct links."

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