176 Lunar New Year flights put on hold due to M503 dispute
Taipei, Jan. 18 (CNA) Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) confirmed a news report Thursday that it has provisionally delayed approval of applications by two China-based airlines to operate additional cross-strait flights during the Lunar New Year holiday in protest at China's unilateral decision to launch a northbound M503 route.
The Taipei-based CAA said it has put on hold the application by China Eastern and Xiamen Air to fly a total of 176 additional cross-strait flights during the holiday period from Feb.15-20, in response to China's launch of the M503 route which Taiwan considers a threat to aviation safety.
The CAA estimates up to 50,000 passengers could be affected as a result.
The two Chinese airlines said they would have to confer with their respective headquarters before commenting on the development.
China unilaterally announced the launch of the M503 northbound route on Jan. 4, without consulting Taiwan. The route is only 4.2 nautical miles, or approximately 7.8 km, from the median line of the Taiwan Strait, at its nearest point.
Three Chinese east-west extension routes designated W121, W122 and W123 now overlap with Taiwan's W6, W8 and W2 flight routes serving the outlying islands of Matsu and Kinmen.
According to the CAA, more than 20 flights operated by Chinese airlines use the newly designated four routes every day.
Meanwhile, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said the council respects and supports the CAA's handling of the issue, and urged China to start negotiations with Taiwan as soon as possible, in line with an agreement reached by the two sides in 2015.
"Aviation safety is the core issue and people's lives must not be put at risk," he added.
In 2017, a total of 314 additional cross-strait flights were approved for the Lunar New Year holiday, while 535 such flights were conducted in 2016, according to CAA statistics.
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