Taipei, June 28 (CNA) Local airline companies have urged the authorities in Taiwan and China to increase the number of direct cross-Taiwan Strait flights to the cities covered by the free independent traveler (FIT) program, market sources said Thursday.
According to the sources, the six international carriers in Taiwan that provide cross-strait flights have all called for permission to expand flight services to tap the growing number of tourists under the FIT program that began June 28 last year.
The carriers said that although the number of independent Chinese tourists to have visited Taiwan so far is lower than originally expected, they are confident that with the expansion of the FIT program, the number will increase.
On April 28 this year, the Chinese cities covered by the FIT program were increased to nine from the three in the initial stage of the program.
Under the program, residents of the nine cities -- Shanghai, Beijing, Xiamen, Tianjin, Chongqing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu -- are allowed to travel to Taiwan as individual tourists, with a combined quota of 1,000 entries per day.
By the end of this year, the FIT program will have expanded even further to include residents of the cities of Jinan, Xian, Fuzhou and Shenzhen.
The carriers said they currently operate 279 cross-strait flights per week, among which, 169 serve the 13 cities covered and to be covered by the FIT program. Meanwhile, Chinese carriers operate the same number of cross-strait flights.
Currently, Taiwan's China Airlines and its subsidiary, Mandarin Airlines, provide 66 cross-strait flights per week between them to the 13 cities, while EVA Air and its subsidiary, Uni Air, operate 72, with TransAsia Airways providing 29 per week and Far Eastern Air offering two.
They also said that as ticket prices for individual Chinese tourists are higher than those for group travelers, the service expansion will reap even greater benefits for the companies involved.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration said it is planning to send a delegation to China in mid-July to negotiate with its Chinese counterpart, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, over possible hikes in the number of cross-strait flights.
In addition to Shanghai and Beijing, which are popular among foreign tourists, the local airlines said, they want to add to the flights serving second-tier Chinese cities such as Hangzhou -- also a popular tourist destination -- the economies of which are growing very fast and where demand is on the rise.
(By Wang Shu-fen and Frances Huang)