Thursday, June 3, 2010

Songshan, Hongqiao and Haneda: Su Tseng-chang and the Capital Airport

Songshan, Hongqiao and Haneda: Su Tseng-chang and the Capital Airport
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 3, 2010

The Democratic Progressive Party once demanded that the Songshan Airport, once in decline, be decommissioned and turned into a public park. Now however, Songshan Airport has been revitalized by direct cross-Strait flights. It will soon connect directly with Shanghai's Hongqiao, Tokyo's Haneda, and Seoul's Gimpo airports. It has been transformed into the business airport for a national capital in the East Asian economic circle. Su Tseng-chang's opposition to the DPP's "anti-Songshan Airport" line has reportedly mired him in a major showdown. His election campaign asks the question: Can Songshan Airport really be wiped off the map?

That Su Tseng-chang is mired in a major showdown means he realizes that circumstances have changed, and are not something he or the DPP can resist. After all, the Songshan Airport's current resurrection is a living reality to people traveling to and from the airport daily. Even assuming Su Tseng-chang had superhuman abilities, he could not take a bouncing baby and stuff it back into its mother's womb.

For DPP leaders, the Songshan Airport project, like so many other controversial construction projects, has been nothing more than a sword to attack their political enemies, rather than a plowshare to till the earth. When Huang Ta-chou was Taipei Mayor, the Democratic Progressive Party called for Songshan Airport's relocation. It pressured the Civil Aviation Authority to commit to relocating it within five years. When Chen Shui-bian was Taipei Mayor, he avoided the issue altogether. When Lee Ying-yuan and Frank Hsieh were running against each other for Taipei Mayor, they again campaigned for the elimination of Sung Shan Airport. They argued that since the MRT system would soon link Taoyuan Airport, Songshan Airport was no longer necessary.

Ironically, by that time, the DPP was already in power. But the Chen administration never made plans to either eliminate or preserve Songshan Airport. Instead, as the Green Camp shouted "Eliminate Songshan" at deafening volume, Chen Shui-bian embarked on a major campaign to build local airports across the island in the name of "Love for Taiwan." Today "mosquito airports" (unused airports infested with mosquitoes) can be found all over the island, the product of the "politics of wishful thinking." No trace of an MRT link to CKS Airport could be found during Chen Shui-bian's eight years in office. Chen renamed the CKS International Airport the "Taoyuan International Airport." But that did nothing to change its fortune. It merely became eight years older and shabbier. Over the years, the airport's decline has ironically become a clear reflection of our national decline.

Songshan Airport has now gotten a new lease on life. It has been the beneficiary of warming cross-Strait relations. It has also benefitted from recent changes in international airport operations. Take mainland China, South Korea, and Japan, for example. Many years ago airport noise pollution and traffic congestion forced major metropolises to build new international airports and transform existing airports into domestic airports. But more recently this rigid pattern of "one domestic airport, one international airport" for major metropolises has been shattered. Take Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport for example. In March of this year, following runway expansions and the construction of a new terminal building, it was redefined as a "regional airport." It now allows flights to select Asian cities. For one thing, it helps reduce congestion at Pudong Airport. For another it takes advantage of its proximity to the city, increasing its convenience for business travelers.

This is not the only example. The roles of Tokyo's Narita Airport and Haneda Airport have changed. For years "Narita was primarily international, Haneda was primarily domestic." But the Japanese government was shocked to discover that Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea had replaced Tokyo as Japan's major international hub. The crux of the matter is that Incheon Airport not only has a greater take off and landing capacity, it also allows direct flights to 28 cities in Japan. By contrast, Narita Airport allows direct flights to only eight cities in Japan. Travelers in Japan who wish to go abroad must first fly to Haneda. From there they must travel over an hour by car to Narita, dragging along their luggage, in order to make their connecting flight. Under the circumstances, many Japanese prefer to fly directly from their hometowns to Incheon, where they can board an international flight to any destination in the world, saving considerable waiting and transit time.

In other words, Incheon Airport's openness and dense network of international connections greatly enhance its competitiveness. For passengers in neighboring countries, Incheon Airport can provide services even more convenient than those in their home countries. Japan is not the only one threatened. So is mainland China. Tourists from Shandong traveling to the West Coast of the US can save 17 full hours by transiting through Inchon instead of through Pudong. As we can see, in order to become a competitive airport, one must establish the right conditions, and not hide behind closed doors shouting angry slogans.

Songshan will connect with Hongqiao by the middle of this month. Not only does this symbolize a closer relationship between the two sides, it also suggests Taipei may soon be upgraded to the status of an East Asian transportation hub. In retrospect, we have gotten off to a late start. In fact, we squandered over a decade of valuable time. We would like to remind the Ma administration to maintain a balance between Songshan Airport and Taoyuan Airport, We would like to remind Su Tseng-chang that he must properly define the role of Songshan Airport in his campaign appeals, since this will have a bearing on his cross-Strait and regional appeals.

2010.06.03 02:08 am









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