July 7, 2008

Roundup-China Focus: Historic Weekend Charter Flights Take Off Across Taiwan Strait Amid Applause, Joy

Roundup-China Focus: Historic weekend charter flights take off across Taiwan Strait amid applause, joy by Xinhua writer Fu Shuangqi and Lu Chuanzhong

BEIJING, July 4 (Xinhua) -- The first weekend charter flights flew across the Taiwan Strait on Friday, carrying excited mainland tourists and Taiwan residents joyful at the shorter and cheaper journey.

The first cross-Strait weekend charter flight from China's mainland to Taiwan took off at 6:31 a.m. on Friday from Guangzhou, capital of the southern Guangdong Province, operated by mainland- based China Southern Airlines. It landed at Taipei at 8:10 a.m. with 258 passengers, including more than 100 tourists from the mainland.

The first flight from Taiwan to the mainland, run by Taiwan- based Uni Air, took off from Taipei Songshan airport at 8:00 a.m. with 149 passengers.

Six airlines from the mainland and five from Taiwan were operating the 18 return flights on the first day of the weekend service between five terminals in the mainland and five in Taiwan.

As the mainland aircraft taxied on the runway after landing at Taipei Taoyuan airport, fire trucks sprayed water in a greeting while passengers applauded the arrival.

"They are washing dust from us (a Chinese phrase used to describe hosts receiving guests from far away)," said a passenger in his 60s on board of a flight from Beijing.

The airport greeted the guests with lion and dragon dances as well as traditional dances of local ethnic minorities.

"The weekend service is like the first 'rainbow' that appeared over the Taiwan Strait after the air between the two sides cleared," said Lee Maw-sheng, president of the Taiwan Business Association in Shanghai, when checking in at Shanghai Putong airport.

His dream of commuting between his office and home within a day is realized through the weekend service.

"I can have breakfast at home in Taipei, fly to Shanghai for business and come back for supper with my family," he said.

Taipei residents are happy that Taipei Songshan airport is one of eight terminals on the island for the weekend service.

Previous charter flights at festivals landed and took off at Taoyuan airport, 40 km from the city, which handled international flights.

At Taipei Songshan airport, where most flights left for destinations around the island, actor Will Liu told local media it was the first time he had not had to get up at 4 a.m. to fly to the mainland.

"I used to board the plane at Taoyuan airport and transfer at Hong Kong on my way to Shanghai. It took about six hours and now the time is almost half," he said.

Frequent travelers like him had witnessed charter flights across the Strait expand from one major festival to four and then every weekend, Friday to Monday, since 2003.

But all of the weekend planes still flew across the Strait by way of Hong Kong airspace.

"There is no technical difficulty to launching real direct flights across the Strait," said Yang Guoqing, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) at the ceremony in Beijing. "I believe the two sides could produce a direct flight route and more terminals once we talk with each other in an equal and down-to-earth manner with goodwill and understanding."

At the June meeting between the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), the two sides agreed to start discussing the direct flight issue "as soon as possible."

A total of 760 mainland tourists from the mainland are also on the unprecedented journey to Taiwan and will stay for 10 days.

"Today is a happy and memorable day. I hope it will be a good beginning for tourism across the Strait," said Shao Qiwei, chairman of the Cross-Strait Tourism Communication Association (CSTCA) and director of the National Tourism Administration, who led a delegation to Taiwan and took the weekend flight from Beijing on Friday.

"I have been expecting to visit Taiwan, the Treasure Island, and my dream will finally come true today," mainland tourist Shi Anwei told Xinhua before boarding the plane in Guangzhou. "I was too excited to sleep last night."

"I have lots of friends in the mainland and always tell them I will give them the best treatment when they visit Taiwan. Now I can fulfill my promise," said famed Taiwan singer Chow Wah-kin at the Beijing International Airport. "I have wasted too much of my life in transfers."

Wang Yi, director of both the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that the day marked a new beginning in cross- Strait exchanges.

Cross-Strait relations have been presented with a hard-won development opportunity, and direct contacts between compatriots on both sides must be beefed up to enhance their mutual understanding and achieve new progress in the peaceful development of cross- Strait ties, he said.

(c) 2008 Xinhua News Agency - CEIS. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.