Flood of Flights Begin Between China and Taiwan

I thought I’d continue the international flavor this week with a post on one of the biggest air travel market openings in ages. Last summer, relations thawed enough for China and Taiwan to allow a very limited number of direct flights between the two with the promise of more to come. On August 31, the real flood began as the first regularly scheduled (non-charter) flights started between the two countries. It’s not often that we see a huge market open up like this, so it’s certainly fun to watch.

Up until the 31st of August, there were 108 weekly roundtrip charter flights permitted between China and Taiwan. China Taiwan Flights Good, Missiles BadEverything else had to go through a third location, usually Hong Kong. On August 31, that number ballooned to 270, and for the first time, they can now be operated as regularly scheduled flights.

The incredible size of this market is hard to grasp. Though Taiwan may seem like a small island, there are nearly 23 million people living on it, and most of them have strong ties to China and its 1.3 billion people. So on one side, we have an island with a population larger than the entire state of New York and on the other side, we have a country four times larger than the US. On August 31, there were 44 flights that operated, but as you can imagine there is going to be room for a lot more in the years to come. Hopefully further liberalization will happen.

Sixteen airlines were given permission to fly between China and Taiwan. Sixteen?!? That’s just unreal. And more than 20 cities in China will have service to Taiwan.

Air China will have 27 weekly roundtrips and they’ll fly from Taipei to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou and Tianjian. Meanwhile, EVA Air and UNI Air will fly 55 weekly roundtrips between three Taiwanese airports and Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Kunming, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Dalian, Ningbo, Chengdu and Qingdao, Wuhan, and Chongqing. This is just unreal that this is all happening overnight.

Like I said, we don’t see this every day. The next time we can expect to see something close is probably when Cuba finally opens up for travel to the US. The populations are certainly smaller, but the propensity to fly is likely greater.


16 Responses to Flood of Flights Begin Between China and Taiwan

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    This made life easier for people to travel between the two places to visit family, so they are the winners. The loosers here are Macau which saw a large connecting traffic between China and Taiwan, and Hong Kong. But at least HKG gets enough other traffic to make up for the loss of all that connecting traffic.

    China/Taiwan, USA/Cuba….they both show just how stupid we humans can be. It’s good to finally see things changing for the better in these areas.

  2. A says:

    Just an FYI on flying to Cuba from the US. Last time I was at MIA the gate next door was an American Eagle flight going to Havana Cuba. The gate agent told me it’s classified as a “charter” and is allowed to fly into Cuba that way.

  3. Brian Lusk says:

    CF, the link to the news site in your post reveals an attitude that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Will this eliminate the need for carriers like JAL to have separate subsidiaries to serve Taiwan?

  4. I don’t expect nearly the volume of travel between Cuba and the United States as that between Taiwan and the PRC.

    As you said, Taiwan is the equivalent of New York, so the comparison is having NYC isolated from the rest of the US for decades and suddenly every outfit with an airplane opens service once the ban has been completely lifted.

    16 airlines is surprising to me in that it is a smallish number. With the fractured mainland industry, virtually every region and province has at least one airline based there, again with long historical ties to the people of Taiwan. Before consolidation and regional affiliate branding there has to have been at least that number flying in and out of NYC.

    Three airports in NYC (alone), three in Taiwan..makes sense.

  5. execplat says:

    Cranky – I believe the frequencies include cargo flights. I doubt that that many people will fly – the real money is in cargo between two manufacturing powerhouses

  6. David SFeastbay says:

    @ A:

    The U.S. Govt has permitted USA-Cuba charters for years for Cubans to visit family. They are highly controlled and limited to only a few companies to arrange. Mostly from MIA and NYC, and Los Angeles just started up this year again.

  7. Tex says:

    Honestly, if we want to see something of this scale, I think it’ll happen if/when North Korea opens its borders unconditionally to the South and the large Korean community in north east China. But back to the topic at hand…

    Personally, I think the number of flights is going to drop off after a year or two. Why? Because its novelty. Sure there are many Chinese/Taiwanese families who want to reunite, but you have to remember that China has a growing number of people who can afford to travel just for the hell of it, and for 50 years, Taiwan has been a sort of forbidden fruit only easily accessible via Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong.

    That said, the flights from Taipei Taoyuan to cities on the mainland have been heavily advertised in the chinese american communities back in the states. I guess its a convenience factor. For those with Taiwanese roots its “Visit family and see the grandeur of the mainland all on one convenient ticket” and vice versa for Chinese expats.

  8. BJ says:

    It is amazing what can be done with a government that can see the value of aviation. President Ma (Taiwan) has actively worked to improve relations and ergo improve tourism and trade.

    Interestingly he is also driving some major projects, one of which is creating an airport city surrounding Taoyuan airport. If the vision comes to fruition as planned Taoyuan could become one of the major hubs for passengers, freight and technology within the area if not the world.

  9. Andrew says:

    Don’t forget to mention China Airlines as a Taiwanese carrier and their new service to mainland China. They’re not the same as Air China… Can’t find an English release, but it’s bookable on their Taiwan website (you can book a LAX-mainland China flight on their US site via Taipei).

  10. Michael says:

    Cathay Pacific is turning out to be a HUGE loser. They had better start trimming TPE-HKG flights soon….

  11. Oliver says:

    @Tex — from media reports, the North Koreans are starving and their airline industry consists of less than a handful of aging Russian jets. I doubt that there is a huge demand in the short term for them to fly somewhere south. Add to that that North and South Korea are glued together and train service is cheaper to provide. On the other hand, Taiwan is pretty far away from many parts of the Chinese mainland (and an island to boot).

  12. Stephen says:

    @Tex, good point about North/South Korea. And @Michael, yea Tony Tyler (chairman of CX) just made a point at Asian Aerospace last week to admit that this was going to significantly impact their business.

    For people who think this is overkill, I think you significantly underestimate a.) the magnitude of Taiwanese investment in China (official figures are over $2bn annually, and is likely underestimated due to grey market activity and legacy Taiwanese restrictions on profit from mainland companies), b.) the fact that until now there has been virtually zero mainland investment in Taiwan due to Taiwanese rstrictictions, and the upside here is enormous, and c.) what a royal pain in the a$$ it was to fly PVG-TPE before via HKG. That is a SIX hour excursion that can be done in just over ONE with direct flights. Even worse was the pain of TPE-XMN via HKG, which is right across the straits. Flights to/from HKG are absolutely packed with Taiwanese businessmen who visit their factories, restaurants, girlfriends, whatever in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, you name it. This definitely has nothing to do w/ the convenience factor for overseas Chinese visiting Taiwan, which someone mentioned….this is about the fact that there is already extremely heavy demand for ex-TPE for flights to China, that there will likely be a wave of investment and tourists going the other way ex-China to TPE, and that everyone has been wasting about 3-5x more jetfuel and time than necessary because they have to do it always through HKG. Finally, the number of elite Cathay members can decrease as the Taiwanese businessmen stop getting Diamond status (each flight to/from China is 4 segments)…

    This is even more acute than Cuba…in Taiwan there are 23 million people who for the most part not only speak Mandarin and share the same culture as those across the straits, but all lived together on the same mass of land for history until 60 years ago. Sounds more similar to North/South Korea, minus Kim Jong Il and the poverty.

  13. Sergio Mello says:

    @ Tex:
    Many flights were canceled already and CX capacity to TPE was cut.

    @ Stephen:
    correct! point a) is definitely the #1 reason.

    @ Tex:
    North Korea does not have enough population to justify a massive capacity deploy. Not to mention the purchasing power.
    And there are almost no investments of South Koreans in the North, beside a site just across the border, 45min drive from Seoul.

    @ Oliver, the Koryo Air IL-62 are quite fun to ride :-)

  14. Having lived in Taiwan during the mid-80s, and being among the very earliest independent tourists into Mainland China, I personally find this whole development dazzling.

    In 1987 I hand-carried a letter from an elderly woman in Taiwan to her sister in Beijing. Even mail was somewhat problematic back then. My elderly friends are likely long-gone now, along with most of the Nationalist Chinese who fled to Taiwan in the first place. The younger generation of Taiwanese are increasingly distant from mainland Chinese culture and mores in every way. Even the use of Mandarin, the official language of both Taiwan and China, is gradually giving way to the more popular Taiwanese.

    The fact that there is enough demand to fill the current capacity has nothing to do with “reuniting” Chinese families. Anyone who was in that situation has been able to do so for many years. What I think this really means is the Taiwanese have the dollars and interest to play tourist on the mainland, and the mainland Chinese are curious to see how a Chinese society developed outside Communism.

    I always encourage people to visit Taiwan. Few Westerners do. It’s not an easy destination–language can be daunting, and it’s crowded and zany. But I DO believe Taiwan is somewhat reflective of what mainland China might actually be like had Mao and his Communist ideology not taken China in 1947. The Taiwanese are delightful, democratic people, the food on their island is superb, and their modern infrastructure is astonishing.

    Plus they have the finest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world, their National Palace Museum. Hard to believe, but the Nationalists managed to grab China’s greatest treasures, crate them up, and carry the treasures with them during the long war with the Communists, eventually managing to ship the treasures to Taiwan where they have been lovingly cared for and displayed. China’s likely green with envy, but had they been left behind, the Cultural Revolution may have destroyed them all.

    A rambler of a blog post, but important to me. Thanks for reading.

  15. amida says:

    “in Taiwan there are 23 million people who for the most part not only speak Mandarin and share the same culture as those across the straits, but all lived together on the same mass of land for history until 60 years ago.”
    Stephen: Taiwan was populated before the KMT came 60 years ago. Only a minority of Taiwan’s population derive from that influx. (That is not to say that the others do not have ties to the mainland, however.)

  16. “Sixteen airlines were given permission to fly between China and Taiwan. Sixteen?!?” – this is amazing! thanks for the blogs and the comments… It is very informative ….

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