Rare flight brings new hope to long-idle Hengchun Airport

09/21/2020 08:53 PM
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Photo courtesy of the Pingtung County government
Photo courtesy of the Pingtung County government

Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) A Philippine carrier has flown the first civilian flight to Hengchun Airport in six years, a test flight that has raised hopes among county officials that the long-idle airport could still prove viable in the future.

A Platinum Skies 31-seat twin-turbine Dornier328 arrived at 10:40 a.m. Monday, two hours after its departure from Manila, in a test and training flight.

The plane's two pilots did not cut the aircraft's engines or open the cabin doors after landing, but waved to the ground control tower through the cockpit's windows.

The aircraft, which also had an unknown number of cabin crew members and flight engineers, as well as five supervisors from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines aboard, took off at 11:19 a.m. after completing flight and landing tests to return to Manila.

Pingtung County Magistrate Pan Men-an (潘孟安) waved from the control tower to greet the airplane when it landed.

"This is a historic moment for Hengchun Airport," said Pan in a statement released by the county government, praising the test flight as a new opportunity to revive the airport, which has not served a passenger since 2014 largely because of its location.

The airport frequently experiences strong downslope winds from October to March, posing a hazard to the small planes it can accommodate and forcing it to close irregularly during those months.

When Hengchun Airport began regular domestic flight services in January 2004, three carriers flew there.

But by 2007, only Uni Air was left because of the airport's location and the introduction of Taiwan's north-south high-speed railway, and it suspended the flights there in September 2014 before officially closing the Taipei-Hengchun air route on May 28, 2019.

Trying to keep the airport alive, the county government contacted over 40 air carriers and travel agencies in six countries in the region over the past four yours to sell them on using the airport close to Kenting National Park, one of Taiwan's most popular tourist destinations, according to Pan.

Eventually, Platinum Skies, a business charter specialist from the Philippines, agreed to fly one charter flight per week, starting in June, Pan said.

The project came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Monday's test flight indicates the carrier could still serve the route in the future.

According to the county government, opening air routes for international charter flights is the first stage of its airport revitalization project, which has won the central government's approval.

Under the project, the airport will be upgraded to improve and extend its existing runway to allow larger aircraft able to withstand the winds to land and the building of a new runway enabling planes to land in stronger winds, the county government said.

(By Kuo Chih-hsuan and Elizabeth Hsu)

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