Taiwan Hengchun Airport to remain open, hoping for charter flights

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Hengchun Airport in Pingtung County (Wikipedia)

Hengchun Airport in Pingtung County (Wikipedia)

TAIPEI (CNA) -- Hengchun Airport in Pingtung County will continue to stay open on a trial basis as it still hopes to serve international charter flights, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said Monday.

Chu Kuan-wen (朱冠文), director of the CAA's air transport division, said the county submitted an application in March for the extension of operations at the airport and that the CAA has agreed to allow the trial period to continue for another two years.

The facility, originally a military airport during the period of Japanese colonial rule, was converted into a civilian airport in 2004 with the aim of boosting regional development and local tourism.

Extremely low passenger numbers and seasonal strong winds on the Hengchun Peninsula that made takeoffs and landings dangerous led to the closure of the airport in September 2014.

Following the closure, the airport quickly became a subject of public mockery and was often referred to a "ghost airport" and "white elephant."

In March 2017, the county tried to revive the facility by applying to turn it into an international airport for charter flights, and the application was approved on a two-year trial basis.

Since then, however, it has not attracted any international charter flights or domestic flights, and has tried to stay active by renting out its runway on several occasions to the Apex Flight Academy, Taiwan's only flight training school, Chu said.

One of the problems has been the airport's runway, said Pingtung County Transportation and Tourism Department Director Huang Kuo-wei (黃國維).

Over the past two years, the county government has invited several foreign airline operators to visit Hengchun Airport and explore opportunities for business, and the reaction has been positive, Huang said.

They thought the facility has the potential to attract airlines due to the area's tourism resources but felt it is still necessary to lengthen and widen the airport's runway to meet international standards, Huang said.

The county is now urging the CAA to resolve the issue to improve the chances of international charters flying to Hengchun, he said.

Li Tsung-wen (李聰文), acting director of Hengchun Airport, said the airport currently has 12 workers, including air traffic controllers and firefighters. It costs about NT$25 million a year to keep open.

When it began domestic commercial operations in 2004, three local airlines served the Taipei-Hengchun route. But by 2007, Uni Air was the only carrier left operating the route, and that continued until September 2014.

Even though Uni Air stopped flying to Hengchun some four years ago, the Hengchun Airport's website continues to display Uni Air on its flight information schedule to this day, showing services to and from Taipei and Hengchun every Tuesday and Thursday.

On May 15, Uni Air issued a statement saying the company will no longer operate the Taipei-Hengchun route beginning May 28, with the approval of the CAA.