A Taiwanese China Airlines charter plane made history when it left Shanghai Pudong International Airport Sunday after a two-hour stop over, becoming the first airliner from China's Taiwan to arrive on the mainland since 1949.
On the Boeing 747-400 were some 240 Taiwanese business people and their families, returning home for the traditional Chinese Spring Festival which falls on February 1 this year.
They were the first batch of passengers on the 32 indirect chartered flights scheduled by six Taiwanese airlines during the coming Spring Festival holiday.
Many of them recorded the event, which was marked by a celebratory lion dance, on their video cameras, as 180 reporters from over 70 countries looked on.
Booming Shanghai has attracted more than 300,000 people from Taiwan Province who invest and live in the city and nearby areas. They used to take other airlines, like Shanghai Airlines or Dragonair, to Hong Kong or Macao where they had to stay for 45 minutes or up to two hours and then switch planes to Taiwan.
It is the first time since 1949 that Taiwanese airlines have flown to Shanghai to help move these people back during the biggest Chinese festival season.
"The chartered flights cannot eradicate the inconvenience to Taiwan compatriots of crossing the Straits,'' said Shanghai Vice-Mayor Han Zheng at a ceremony to mark the first flights.
"Only when the distance is covered by the one-hour-and-half direct flight will the Taiwan people benefit,'' Han said.
The first plane, which landed as No CI585 in Pudong at 8:52 am and took off as No CI586 at 11:25 am Sunday, was scheduled to stop over in Hong Kong for 50 minutes before flying back to Taiwan Province at about 16:00 pm the same day.
The journey is expected to take four hours and 40 minutes, about two hours less than normal flights and passengers need not change planes as they did previously.
Transasia Airways, another Taiwan-based airline among the six given permission to schedule indirect chartered flights, also sent a plane to Pudong Airport to bring Taiwan passengers back Sunday afternoon.
The other four Taiwanese carriers are EVA Airways, Mandarin Airlines, Far East Air Transport and UNI Airways.
The indirect flights will run till February.
According to Shanghai Taiwan Affairs Office, more than 1,200 tickets have been sold to Taiwan passengers, achieving an average occupancy rate per flight of nearly 70 percent.
Analysts said the occupancy rate would have been higher if indirect flights had been launched much earlier.
The Taiwanese China Airlines' charter plane returned to Taipei's Taoyuan Airport at 3:40 pm Sunday, ending a successful round trip between Taipei and Shanghai.
(China Daily January 27, 2003)