Taipei, Jan. 30 (CNA) Taiwan's Transportation Ministry expressed regret on Tuesday that two Chinese airlines have canceled planned extra cross-Taiwan Strait flights for the Lunar New Year holiday and said negotiations could still take place if a dispute over air routes unilaterally declared by China is resolved.
Both China Eastern Airlines Corp. and Xiamen Air announced earlier Tuesday that they were "forced" to cancel plans for 176 additional flights for the Feb. 15-20 holiday because of Taiwan's delays in approving them in protest of China's launch of the new routes.
Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) chief Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) said the ministry has never sent the message that it was "not approving" the flights over the issue and was not using passengers' rights as a bargaining chip.
The point it has tried to make, Ho Chen said, is the importance of communication and discussions because China's unilateral decision to launch the northbound M503 route had implications for Taiwan's "aviation safety and national security."
"Don't just easily shut down a door for communication at this time," Ho Chen said during a press conference on the ministry's plans for 2018.
He said there was still a chance for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to reach a consensus, and he welcomed the airlines to re-apply for the extra flights once the dispute is settled.
In their statements, both airlines condemned the Taiwanese government for holding back approval of the flights, which they said ignored the needs of passengers, particularly Taiwanese people.
China Eastern said around 40,000 passengers will likely be affected by its cancellation of 106 flights, and argued that the new northbound M503 route would not affect flight safety because the M503 route was already approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Xiamen Air also criticized the Taiwanese government, saying that its approach was "against the people's will and put Taiwanese people in a difficult position, severely hurting the feelings of the people across the Taiwan Strait."
But Lin Kuo-shian (林國顯), director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, stressed that China's move to open the route without prior negotiations with its neighboring Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) was already "against the spirit of the ICAO."
When asked if the CAA will consider further reducing scheduled flights operating on this route, Lin said "it will depend on the level of good will and respect from China."