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Taipei's Songshan Airport

Soaring Again, with Direct Tokyo Flights


Soaring Again, with Direct Tokyo Flights


Things are looking up for Songshan Airport. With a new direct link to Tokyo, it's taking an ever-bigger bite of the commercial market pie, and Taiwan's importance in the Asian airline industry continues to rise.



Soaring Again, with Direct Tokyo Flights

By Chao-Yen Lu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 459 )

Following on the heels of the opening of direct cross-strait transport links, Taiwan's travel industry has more good news to celebrate.

The opening of the air route between Songshan Airport in Taipei and Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Oct. 31 looks set to make a big splash in the business travel market, with China Airlines forecasting an increase of 20 percent in visits by Japanese travelers to Taiwan, at a stroke reversing Taiwan's declining fortunes in the Japanese air travel market since mainland Chinese travelers supplanted the Japanese as Taiwan's largest foreign visitor group.

As Janice Lai, director general of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau, enthused, the new Taipei-Tokyo connection "is going to be a money-making route."

Travel industry businesses are ecstatic. A Nov. 1 reception marking the opening of the Songshan-Haneda route, attended by more than 100 Taiwanese and Japanese travel industry executives, was a boisterous affair not unlike a wedding banquet, with attendees offering one another hearty congratulations all around.

Indeed, on the very first day of operations, China Airlines (CAL) spokesman Hamilton Liu confidently predicted that the Songshan-Haneda route had huge potential for an increase in the number of flights plying it, dependant only on "whether Songshan Airport can handle the increase in traffic."

Once reliant on domestic routes as its major source of passenger traffic, Songshan suddenly became one of Asia's hottest airports in recent years with the opening of cross-strait air links.

Passenger arrivals and departures at Songshan had declined for five consecutive years and last year amounted to just one-third the 2005 figure. With the opening of direct charter flights from China in 2008, however, passenger traffic on the airport's international routes exploded four-fold and the decline in domestic passenger traffic has now been ameliorated by the increase in cross-strait traffic, significantly slowing the drop-off in the airport's overall passenger arrivals and departures.

In 2010 Songshan has been twice blessed, with the opening of flights to Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport in the first half of the year and now the opening of the Tokyo Haneda route, which will invariably lead to a major turnaround in overall future passenger traffic, ultimately reversing decline and achieving growth.

A New Trend in Asian Air Travel

Songshan is now flying into favorable winds, catching the updraft of a new trend in Asian air travel, as inner-city airports in Northeast Asia aggressively develop new routes. The impetus for the "Northeast Asia Golden Flight-route Circuit" touted by President Ma Ying-jeou and resulting in development of air routes between Taipei Songshan, Shanghai Hongqiao, Tokyo Haneda and Seoul Gimpo is actually rooted in Japan.

After learning of Tokyo's plans to develop new air routes between Tokyo Haneda, Shanghai Hongqiao and Seoul Gimpo during a 2005 meeting with former Yokohama mayor Hiroshi Nakada, then-Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou returned to Taiwan to draw up the "Northeast Asia Golden Flight-route Circuit" plan.

Staking Out a Leading Position

The four aforementioned inner-city airports in Taiwan, Japan, China and South Korea all shared one common fate, says Civil Aviation Bureau deputy director Chen Tien-tsyh. All began service as international airports and fell into decline as they gradually lost passengers to newly built exurban international airports, after reaching passenger traffic saturation. With the international flights initiated among these inner city airports and their comparative advantage in transportation convenience, they are now gradually reclaiming the prominent position of their glory years.

Aside from benefiting the travel industry, the new international routes of the "Northeast Asia Golden Flight-route Circuit" have also highlighted Taiwan's irreplaceable importance within Asia.

Among the guests attending the Songshan-Haneda launch reception – largely made up of travel industry representatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and ranking politicos from Taiwan and Japan – improbable appearances were put in by Uni-President Group president C.S. Lin and DaChan Great Wall Group executive vice president Dennis Han.

"This air route is hugely significant for Taiwan. I definitely had to come take a look," Lin said, adding that he believed the establishment of the "golden flight-route circuit" would render the Asian consumer market more compact and bring it closer together, and Taiwan would be at the epicenter of that zone.

"Taiwan is a Southeast Asian manufacturing center. China is a manufacturing and consumer center. Among the four territories, Taiwan sits in the prime position," Lin maintained.

The consumer groups these businesses are taking aim at are both business travelers and middle class passengers.

An additional benefit of the Songshan-Haneda route that doesn't occur to most is the indirect promotion of southern Taiwan's tourism industry.

CAL currently operates 22 flights per week between Taoyuan and Tokyo Narita. With the opening of the Songshan-Haneda route, three of those 22 weekly flights will become Kaohsiung-Narita flights.

"We hope to stimulate the southern tourism market and bring more Japanese travelers to Kaohsiung," CAL's Hamilton Liu says.

The next route on the agenda for the golden flight-route circuit is Taipei-Seoul. Taiwan's position in Asia continues to get brighter.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy