Sungshan Airport Indicates a New Political Climate on Taiwan
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 2, 2010
The Songshan Airport is already 60 years old. It is about to become an important part of the Northeast Asian transportation ring. It will link to Shanghai's Hongqiao, Tokyo's Haneda, and Seoul's Gimpo. It will become a "small is beautiful" commercial airport for the nation's capital. This will significantly increase Songshan Airport's commercial viability. It will integrate Taipei with the three most important cities of Northeast Asia, and provide it with opportunities for development. The prospects are worth looking forward to.
The plan is for Songshan Airport to begin flights to and from Hongqiao Airport on the 14th of this month. Each side will schedule 14 flights per week. Flights to and from Haneda Airport will begin on October 31. Each side will schedule 28 flights per week. Negotiations with South Korea are still in progress. The government hopes to open up new direct flights to Gimpo Airport. Therefore In addition to current domestic and cross-Strait flights, Songshan Airport will offer flights to the capitals of Japan and Korea, linking Taipei to the Northeast Asian Transportion Ring's Golden Triangle. Shanghai, Tokyo, and Seoul are Asia's most important, prosperous, and vibrant metropolises. If Taipei can seize the opportunity to reinforce its air links to these cities, it will help promote mutual exchanges. It will make Taipei more attractive to international business and tourism.
As President Ma Ying-jeou has noted, Taiwan is geographically situated at the heart of East Asia. Average distances to the major countries in the region and their capitals are very short -- less than four hours flying time. Taipei enjoys such favorable geographic advantages. Yet in the past, due to various factors, it could not make best use of its advantages, it could not maximize the benefits of economic exchange. That truly is a pity.
Songshan Airport has a glorious history. But in 1979, when the Taoyuan International Airport went into operation, Songshan Airport was demoted to the status of a domestic airport. It never underwent significant expansion or renovation, but instead gradually went into decline. Once the High Speed Rail went into operations, domestic flights were grounded. Songshan Airport looked even more forlorn. Only after President Ma took office did the two sides reconcile and resume cross-Strait exchanges, open up cross-Strait direct flights, and include Songshan Airport as a destination. This, plus a significant increase in the number of mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan, began to revive Songshan Airport. Weekend charter flights turned into regular flights. Last year passenger traffic experienced a significant 3,130,000 increase. Now that international flights are being restored, its facilities and services must be significantly increased. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is about to spend billions of dollars on a three-phase renovation, completely converting it into a terminal for international flights. Terminal II will be reserved for domestic flights. Essential services and facilities will be added, providing the greater Taipei area with express freight and commercial aviation services.
Therefore, one can expect that within the year, Taipei, Shanghai, and Tokyo, three major cities in Northeast Asia, will be linked. Songshan Airport, Hongqiao Airport, and Haneda Airport are all located in urban areas. If they are linked to these cities' subway systems, travel times can be greatly reduced. Travel between these three cities could be reduced to "day trips." From Taipei, one could take the subway to Songshan Airport in the morning, lunch on crabs in Shanghai at noon, and sip tea in Tokyo in the afternoon. If an agreement can be reached with South Korea on Kimpo Airport, dining on ginseng chicken in Myeong-dong will be easy as pie. Tourists from Taiwan to Japan and South Korea do not require visas. Civil sector exchanges and tourism to Taiwan would be even more convenient.
Such convenient transportation flows will directly benefit affected businesses. But before traffic to Songshan Airport is significantly increased, we must be fully prepared. We must review the existing hardware and software for shortcomings, and make timely improvements.
Frankly, although Songshan Airport was once in the spotlight, its interior space, its design, and its facilities had already fallen short of the prevailing requirements for international airports. The runways were not long enough for Boeing 747s. With the influx of mainland tourists, it has attempted to cope. But if we hope to further increase passenger and aircraft throughput, we must significantly increase the capacity of the facilities and services. We will also need the cooperation of other departments. For example, we must set up a business aviation zone to facilitate exchanges between international business executives. The ROC Air Force must be willing to allow the use of its land. This will require high-level government coordination.
The expanded role of Songshan Airport runs directly counter to Green Camp wishes. The Democratic Progressive Party has long advocated that Songshan Airport be relocated, and the site be turned into a park. But if the role of Songshan Airport becomes larger and larger, if its operations are expanded day by day, if the public experiences the benefits of using Songshan Airport, the DPP will be forced to take into account public preferences. This may be the reason Su Tseng-chang, the DPP candidate for Taipei Mayor, no longer raises the issue of Songshan Airport relocation. If Su Tseng-chang can adopt a pragmatic attitude, Songshan Airport need not become a political battlefield. Policy can be formulated on the basis of merit. Policies can be formulated on the basis of what is most consistent with the interests of the public, including the city of Taipei. This would be the most mature and rational approach.
Additional air routes can bring about an increase in tourist traffic. But the operation of an airport requires multifaceted support. Only then can one achieve shining results that will impress the public. Now that Songshan Airport is about to undergo further transformation, we would like to applaud the opening of this small but beautiful gateway to the nation, an opening that indicates the advent of a new political climate on Taiwan.