Why international airlines are flocking back to Taiwan

International airlines are flocking back to Taiwan after a long absence to cash in on Taiwanese tourists and trade opportunities

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Air France Boeing 777-200.

Air France Boeing 777-200. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Despite pressure to not recognize Taiwan as a country on their websites by China, several international air carriers are restoring their services to Taiwan because of the potential for increased tourism and trade.

In spite of pressure on airlines such as Delta Air Lines and Qantas by China to classify Taiwan as a part of the communist country, and the recent spat over Chinese unilateral use of the controversial M503 route, many international carriers have started to reopen old direct routes to Taiwan.

In the 1990s, many international airlines services discontinued services to Taiwan due to threats from China that they would retaliate with the confiscation of landing rights if they continued to fly directly to Taiwan. At the time, Beijing claimed the sole right to negotiate landing rights for Taiwan, as it claims the country to be part of China.

Some countries got around this restriction by creating subsidiaries entirely for flights to Taiwan, while not affecting the main company's landing rights in China. Even Taiwanese airlines had to bow to Beijing, such as Chinese Airlines' removal the Taiwanese flag from its logo in favor of a plum flower.

Taiwanese airlines also formed subsidiaries to get around Chinese restrictions, such as Mandarin Airlines, in the case of Chinese Airlines. Many of these subsidiaries hit hard times during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and eventually the number of carriers flying directly to Taiwan whittled down to just the domestic carriers China Airlines and EVA Air.

However, in 2008, direct commercial airline flights were opened between Taiwan and China, greatly boosting air travel across the strait. In recent years, growing numbers of Taiwanese tourists have increasingly started to travel further afield beyond China, and in response, international carriers are reopening dormant routes to help boost tourism in their home countries and increase opportunities for trade.

On June 9, of last year, Air Canada resumed flights between Taipei and Vancouver, after taking a 14-year hiatus. In the first four months of 2017, 37,822 Canadians traveled to Taiwan and 27,478 Taiwanese went to Canada, an 8.8 percent and 9.4 percent increase from the previous year, respectively, according to Taiwan's Tourism Bureau.

Approximately 60,000 Canadians live in Taiwan, according Mario Ste-Marie, executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, in a CNA report, making it the fourth-largest Canadian community overseas. While Ste-Marie said that 260,000 Taiwanese live in Canada.

In December of last year, Air France announced that it will restore its direct Taipei to Paris service, starting on April 16 of this year, after 22 years of absence. Air France flights between Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport will operate three times per week, the carrier said.

On Feb. 22, Air New Zealand announced that it will begin offering direct flights between Auckland and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport beginning in November. From 1991 to 1995 Air New Zealand partnered with Mandarin Airlines, before partnering with EVA Air until it discontinued the Taipei service in 2005.

Air New Zealand is eyeing the market for Taiwanese tourists, as 36,000 Taiwanese visitors traveled to the country last year, while a total of 14,639 tourists from New Zealand visited Taiwan in 2017, according to data from Taiwan's Tourism Bureau.