Home' Asian Aviation : AAV February 2011 Contents 18 AsianAviation | FEBRUARY 2011
Ralph Jennings / Taipei
Taipei's in-town airport rebounds
Last year, a tourism expert close to
Taiwan's president suggested the
eventual demolition of Taipei's
downtown Songshan International
Airport to make way for a riverside
e famed hotelier added his voice to gures in
Taiwan's main opposition party who saw the 60-year-
old airport as a useless throwback. It was e ectively
replaced in 1979 by the much larger Taiwan Taoyuan
International Airport, an hour's drive outside the city,
they pointed out.
e launch of Taiwan's high-speed railway in 2007
and the inde nite closure of Taipei-based Far Eastern
Air Transport (FAT) a year later le Songshan so
moribund that passengers occasionally had to grab
security's attention for baggage checks, instead of the
other way around.
But now, Songshan is suddenly on a steep comeback
ascent. Since 2008, Taiwan's central government
has opened 69 direct weekly flights from the in-
town airport to 11 cities in nearby southern China,
particularly to Shanghai Hongqiao International
Airport, 80 minutes away, which attract hundreds of
thousands of Taiwanese business travellers, such as
local investors who are estimated to have poured in
excess of US$100 billion into mainland China.
In October, Songshan launched 56 weekly ights
to central Tokyo's expanding Haneda Airport,
while Taiwanese o cials are now talking to Seoul's
downtown Gimpo International Airport as they
try to position Songshan as an East Asian hub for
business ights. All domestic ights out of Taipei also
use Songshan, though high-speed rail has put a dent
"Today's policy won't allow for any demolition. e
president has earmarked Songshan as an airport for
development," says Ni Chen-shih, the airport's deputy
director. "Because of limits on the facilities, we can't
o er as many ights as Taoyuan, but we can specialize
in capital-to-capital ights."
Before opening routes to Haneda and Hongqiao,
Songshan had already absorbed some of the other
370 weekly direct mainland China-Taiwan ights,
which were launched in the wake of a thaw in political
relations between Taipei and Beijing since 2008.
ose ights quadrupled passenger volume between
the neighbours that year. Before 2008, most mainland-
bound passengers from Taiwan had to make costly,
time-consuming stopovers in Hong Kong or Macau.
Songshan's location on a major Taipei subway line,
between two densely populated neighbourhoods,
with links to several public bus ser vices have helped
revitalise its popularity. Some travellers quip that
they can meet a partner for co ee in Taipei, get to an
a ernoon meeting in Shanghai and return to Taipei
in time for dinner.
"You can save so much time, and this is especially
convenient for service industry executives, such as
in nance and media, with business in Taipei where
their headquarters may be located," says Samuel Kuo,
president of a Taiwanese business association in
mainland China and a furniture company chairman,
who has own the Songshan-Hongqiao route.
Airlines are scrambling to expand their presence
at Songshan. "It's conveniently close to the city
centre, saving passengers a lot of time, so Songshan's
contribution to our business is pretty signi cant," says
Hamilton Liu, spokesman for China Airlines, (CAL)
Taiwan's largest carrier.
CAL and its biggest local rival EVA Airways both
operate from Songshan to Tokyo and Shanghai. CAL
has taken about 41,000 passengers overseas from
Songshan since June and plans to expand.
However, airlines also grumble about the 1.82
square-kilometre airport's limitations, as the number of
international ights grows. Songshan's runway cannot
accommodate larger aircra such as Boeing 747s, let
alone Airbus A380 superjumbos. Flights at a busy
time slot may overwhelm the facility's six international
boarding gates. Neighbours' noise complaints have also
Airport staff also must work around a massive
T$990 million (US$32 million) remodelling project
through September 2011, which will close one of the
airport's two terminals for upgrades. But once the
project is done, o cials say, the compact airport will be
ready to accommodate anticipated growth in volume
-- it expects to handle 3.38 million passengers per year
once the upgrades are done.
"If you ask whether Songshan is to our advantage,
then of course, since an in-town airport should add
convenience," says EVA Air publicist Katherine Ko.
Songshan's revival should become an engine for
Taiwanese economic growth, says Wai Ho Leong,
regional economist with Barclays Capital in Singapore.
Mainland Chinese group tours, allowed in Taiwan
for the past two years, can spend more time sightseeing
if they start from Songshan compared with Taoyuan,
while tourism from Japan and South Korea is expected
to increase. Taipei property prices will also rise as
business people active in mainland China spend more
time on the island, Leong says.
" e airport is another factor enhancing Taiwan's
value proposition," he adds. n
Songshan's downtown location offers
numerous advantages over the bigger
Taoyuan International Airport.
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