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Cross-strait Charter Flight for Mid-Autumn Festival Takes off

The first Mid-Autumn Festival charter flight across the Taiwan Strait took off from Taipei at 11:00 (0300 GMT) Friday morning for Shanghai.


The flight, which arrived in Shanghai at 13:25, marks the extension of the cross-strait charter flight service, which used to be restricted to the Spring Festival, or traditional Chinese Lunar New Year.


The flight, BR 1712 from the Taiwan-based Eva Airways, had 308 passengers on board. Two hours later, the flight returned to Taipei with full passengers.


Following Eva Airways' lead, 11 other airlines from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan will organize charter flights for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Oct. 6 this year and is an important occasion for Chinese family reunions.


Six airlines from each side will operate 24 round-trip flights between Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Taipei from September 29 to Oct. 8, during China's week-long National Day vacation.


Charter flights, conducted after talks between civil aviation associations of both sides, were arranged in the absence of regular direct flights across the Taiwan Straits.


Following a decision made by non-governmental aviation industry associations across the straits in June, similar charter flights have been arranged for other traditional holidays including the Ching Ming Festival (or Tomb-Sweeping Day) and the Dragon Boat Festival.


The two sides also agreed to open charter flights for emergency medical rescue, first aid for the handicapped and special chartered cargo flights.


However, during the rest of time, people have to resort to the six-hour or even longer indirect flights between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.


The Chinese mainland has been urging early realization of "three direct links" across the Straits since 1979, namely direct trade, mail service and transportation links.


On Wednesday, China's Taiwan affairs official urged the Taiwan authority to consider regular cross-strait flights.


"Regular direct cross-Strait flights serve the fundamental interests of compatriots across the Taiwan Straits," Li Weiyi, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said.


In 2002, Spring Festival chartered flights were raised by a group of Taiwan business people and eminent persons, after more than 50 years of no direct air links.


The first non-stop charter flights across the Taiwan Strait were launched during the lunar new year in 2005 and 2006.


There were 1,300 passengers on the first charter flights for the 2003 Spring Festival. But numbers then boomed.


In 2005 there were 5,877 passengers on Spring Festival charter flights and in 2006 the number soared to 27,276.


(Xinhua News Agency September 30, 2006)


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