It has been over a year since the launch of direct flights between Taiwan and China. Since August 31, 2009, flight frequency has increased significantly. According to Taiwan’s national airline China Airlines (CAL), passengers who used to take a flight every six months are more likely to fly once a month, while those who flew once a month are doing so every two weeks.
More frequent flyers
Chuang Zi-ming, general manager of the Fubon Financial Holding Company, was assigned to Xiamen, Fujian, Province in China in March. It takes a little over an hour to fly between Taipei and Xiamen. Generally he works in Xiamen during the week and returns to Taipei to stay with his family on weekends. Before the start of direct flights, senior Taiwanese executives had to work in China for a couple of months just to take a short vacation home, reported Global View monthly.
According to Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Bureau, there were 14,492 flights across the Taiwan Strait in the first year after direct flights were offered, providing 6,686,803 passenger seats, carrying a total of 5,237,142 passengers, reaching a 78.32 percent flight capacity load. Average weekly passenger numbers more than doubled, from 46,000 to 99,000, compared with the charter flights that operated before the launch of direct flights.
Bridging the divide
Chuang told Global View that direct flights are a good bridge for the development of the economies across the strait. In general, direct flights have brought more frequent interactions between Taiwan and China.
Taiwan is strategically located between the three big economies of the world – China, Japan and the US. Taiwan has the potential to play a pivotal role as the operations center of the Asia-Pacific region. Kao Koong-lian, deputy chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, which represents Taiwan in negotiating with China, said Taiwan would loose its advantage if there were no direct flights between the two sides.
Also, according to the magazine, direct flights facilitate strategic planning by Taiwanese businesses in taking advantage of the division of labor between Taiwan and China, and increasing the competitive strength of Taiwan’s industries and products on the international market.
An economics professor at National Chengchi University, Lin Chu-chia, noted a new business model which takes the orders in Taiwan, processes them in China and then exports them from Taiwan. In this scenario, Taiwanese businesses move the semi-assembled products manufactured in China and assemble them in Taiwan, thus adding value as a Taiwan-made product.
Global View pointed out that, with regard to product research and development, direct flights reduce the time and energy spent on air travel, thereby allowing R&D engineers and management executives to concentrate on improving product design and business management, which benefit both sides of the strait. In addition, the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and China in June also adds to Taiwan’s industrial development.
Chang Ping-tsao, chairman of Taiwan’s General Chamber of Commerce, who often travels across the strait, said direct flights plus ECFA, and the rapid development of China’s high-speed rail projects will allow Taiwanese business managers a chance to further utilize the Chinese market to increase competitiveness and to create an international brand name.
Encouraging cross-strait investment and tourism
Direct flights plus China’s inland transportation development allow more frequent interaction among people, creating more demand for various financial products, including financing, monetary exchange, investment, life insurance, and travel insurance, according to Chuang. All these are opportunities for Fubon.
A survey by Global View in May showed that 53.6 percent of foreign businesses would increase their intention to invest in Taiwan due to direct cross-strait flights, in addition to ECFA.
Already, benefits can be seen in increased investments in Taiwan. In September, Taiwan’s economics minister signed 27 letters of intent to invest with international companies. Worth NT$108.25 billion (US$3.55 billion), it is expected to create 13,000 new jobs. Among them, Hewlett Packard will invest NT$3.6 billion (US$118 million) to set up a new R&D center, the largest of its type ever established in Taiwan.
Also, Taiwan’s domestic market has received a boost due to direct flights, which bring more Chinese visitors to Taiwan, as well as foreign investment, which both aid the island’s economic recovery.
According to statistics from the Tourism Bureau, the tourist market in the Asia-Pacific region declined 2 percent in 2009, but Taiwan has experienced a growth of 14 percent, the highest in Asia. As of August, foreign visitors to Taiwan increased 28 percent over the same period last year, while the average percentage growth in tourism was 5-6 percent in the region. Chinese visitors who take advantage of direct flights are the main reason for Taiwan’s tourism spike, which is also reflected in Taiwan’s overall economic growth this year. In August, the government upgraded GDP growth to 8.24 percent in 2010 with over 70 percent coming from domestic demand.
Direct flights bolster airline profits
Global View said if the upper limit of Chinese tourists allowed to enter Taiwan is relaxed from 3,000 (currently) to 5,000 a day, there will be 730,000 more Chinese tourists a year, which would translate to about NT$45 billion (US$1.47 billion) in foreign exchange income.
The magazine reported in the tourist high season in July and August this year, two major Taiwanese airlines, China Airlines and EVA Airways, created record high single month revenues. For example in August, EVA reported revenues of NT$9.843 billion (US$320 million). This is the fourth straight month EVA generated a monthly record high, adding to its annual growth of 49.06 percent.
Both CAL and EVA have turned their past losses into profit this year. Masterlink Securities Corporation predicted CAL will make a profit of NT$10.881 billion (US$356.7 million) and EVA NT$6.843 billion (US$224.3 million) respectively. For 2011, both companies are expected to continue this trend, with CAL making NT$11.826 billion (US$387.7 million), about a 9 percent growth rate, and EVA making NT$7.431 billion (US$243.6 million), about 6 percent growth.