Taiwan denies permits for Chinese airlines using M503 aviation route

176 cross-strait flights scheduled over the coming Lunar New Year have been denied access by Taiwan's civil aeronautic authority

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China Eastern Airlines (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) decided to cut flights of two Chinese airlines to Taiwan during the Lunar New Year holidays in response to their use of four flight paths, including the M503 northward route that closely follows the middle line of the Taiwan Strait. The news was confirmed by the CAA on Thursday, Jan. 18.

Ho Shu-ping (何淑萍), deputy director-general of the CAA, said applications of China Eastern Airlines and XiamenAir for 176 extra flights to Taiwan during the holidays had been denied, reported the Central News Agency.

It is estimated that about 50,000 passengers will be affected by the decision.

During the Lunar New Year holidays, the demand for flights between Taiwan and China normally surges. According to an unnamed source, airlines have applied to the CAA for 596 cross-strait flights during the holidays, and among them 491 flights are to be conducted by Chinese airlines. 

Ho said Lunar New Year flights operated by Taiwanese airlines would increase by 105 flights, roughly a dozen more than previous years, and that the CAA encouraged other Chinese airlines that had not used the controversial fight routes to increase their flights to Taiwan. 

Chiu Chiu-cheng (邱垂正), spokesperson for Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said on Thursday that the council would respect and support the decision of the CAA.

Chiu added that the problem was not with the applications themselves, but that China had unilaterally announced the use of the controversial flight routes and refused to negotiate with the Taiwanese authorities. 

China’s civil aeronautics authority announced on Jan. 4 that flights between the south and north of the country would begin using the M503 northward, W121, W122, and W123 flight routes, saying the the move was to alleviate air traffic and reduce flight delays.

Ma Hsiao-kuang (馬曉光), spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a news conference on Wednesday that opening the flight routes was an internal matter for China, and that the government had no obligation to discuss it with Taiwan nor gain the approval of the Taiwanese authorities. 

The MAC refuted Ma’s statement shortly afterwards by saying that China had broken an agreement formed between the two countries in 2015, in which China promised not to open the controversial flight routes without discussing the matter with Taiwan beforehand.

At a news conference on Jan. 4, MAC Minster Katherine Chang (張小月) even described Beijing’s move as using civil aviation operations to mask negative political and military intentions toward Taiwan.