Talks Needed for Flights: CAAC
Applications from Taiwanese airlines for proposed cross-Straits indirect charter flights during the Spring Festival holiday may not be accepted until both sides have worked out the details of the arrangement, it was revealed yesterday.

"It seems too early for us to do so (take the applications) because related talks on technical matters involved in the program have yet to start and we are still waiting for an appropriate and positive response from the Taiwan side to our call for the negotiations," a senior official with the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) said.

The official, who did not want to be named, said a smooth implementation of the plan depends on whether Taiwanese authorities have enough sincerity and immediately take concrete action to facilitate the arrangement.

"If they are adequately sincere and authorize private organizations or industrial associations to start the talks as soon as possible, we are confident all problems can be solved so the plan can be put into place in a timely way," he said.

But the official declined to predict whether the indirect charter arrangement will risk being delayed if Taipei fails to take active steps to cooperate immediately.

Taipei gave final approval on Wednesday for indirect charter flights between Shanghai and Taipei via Hong Kong or Macao around the upcoming February 1 Chinese Lunar New Year.

Only Taiwanese airlines can apply to operate the flights to pick up Taiwanese businessmen and their families living on the mainland between January 26 and February 10, according to regulations announced by the island's "mainland affairs council."

Carriers are required to land either at Pudong or Hongqiao airports in Shanghai and at Chiang Kai-shek or Hsiaokang airports in Taiwan.

If fulfilled, Taiwanese planes will land on mainland soil for the first time in five decades since Taipei banned trade, transport and postal services -- dubbed the three links -- across the Straits.

At least 30,000 Taiwanese businessmen are expected to book charter flights from Shanghai during the 10-day traditional Chinese holiday for family reunions, according to John Chang from the opposition Kuomintang party in Taiwan.

Chang reportedly said he had approached six Taiwanese airlines to provide 120 charter flights between Taipei and Shanghai.

Last month, the Taiwan authorities turned the potentially significant proposal into a largely symbolic move by shooting down a call from 140 local "lawmakers," led by Chang, to permit direct cross-Straits charter flights, citing security concerns.

Although the mainland has held out for direct charter flights with no stopovers and demanded mainland airlines also participate in the charters, it has finally given the nod to Taipei's proposal for the indirect charter flights.

"Despite our dissatisfaction (with the Taipei model), we are willing to offer active cooperation to practically push for the implementation of the plan," said Zhang Mingqing, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, at a routine press conference on Wednesday.

The CAAC official, however, said that going along with Taipei's proposal does not mean Beijing will accept whatever unilateral decisions or arrangements the Taiwan authorities make.

"Neither does it mean talks are not needed to ensure the proposed charter flights can be carried out smoothly and safely," he said.

The official said the mainland's non-governmental civil aviation association is well prepared for negotiations with its Taiwanese counterpart on technical problems that may arise from the charters.

(China Daily December 6, 2002)