The Poltics and Reality of Aviation

Last week, the latest group of Saint Lucian recipients of Taiwanese scholarships arrived  in Taipei after an arduous trip via Miami and Los Angeles, bringing the number of our students studying in Taiwan to almost 70. Little did they know that they were flying to an airport that Mainland China, despite its own many flights to this destination, refuses to acknowledge exists.
Just as the aviation industry the whole world over is in the midst of a deep depression, airlines in Taiwan are experiencing growth rates that are the envy of all. With an ever-increasing number of flights on ever-increasing routes, Taiwan is quickly assuming a key place on Asia’s aviation charts, not only as a final destination for business travelers and tourists alike, but also as an important transit point for international travelers.
Amazingly, ever since 1971 when it was excluded from the International Civil Aviation Organization, Taiwan, despite its key position on aviation charts, has not been allowed any direct contact with ICAO due to opposition from Mainland China. However, in order to ensure the safety of international air transport within the Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR), Taiwan’s civil aviation authority has nevertheless followed the rules established by the Convention on International Civil Aviation through indirect channels, such as attending international conferences, the out-sourcing services and international friends.
The formulation ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) is a lengthy process that often takes years. All Contracting States are notified of new measures as soon as the ICAO Secretariat publishes the relevant information, if not earlier. Taiwan, however, is always excluded from the deliberating process and information loop, and remains in the dark as to the background and context of any new policies or decisions.
Given the lack of direct contact with ICAO, Taiwan has had to rely on assistance from the United States government to undertake audits and have its adherence to international SARPs recognized. The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regularly dispatches personnel to conduct International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) audits that gauge Taiwan’s ability to implement and enforce international SARPs for aircraft operations and maintenance.
The FAA, EU Commission, ICAO and International Air Transportation Association (IATA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the 37th ICAO Assembly in September 2010, agreeing to participate in Global Safety Information Exchange (GSIE) to share data to improve aviation safety worldwide. To prevent gaps in the global civil aviation network, Taiwan should be, but is not, included in this key mechanism.
As Mainland China opposes Taiwan’s membership of ICAO, Taiwan is unable to attend ICAO’s regional and technical meetings. Taiwan’s aviation authority is not even consulted either before or during meetings regarding the Taipei FIR. Worse yet, Taiwan is never informed of any conclusion of such meetings. In 2006 the ICAO formulated two “most direct routings” that were to traverse the Taipei FIR. However, as the implementation of these routings requires coordination between Taiwan and ICAO on technical details, the lack of cooperation leaves ICAO’s plans unfulfilled.
The Taipei FIR is an indispensable link in East Asia’s air traffic network. Taiwan must be invited to ICAO’s meetings as an observer at least, so as to boost ICAO’s pursuit of “safe, regular, efficient and economical air transport,” as promulgated in Article 44 of the Chicago Convention. Committed to international civil aviation affairs, Taiwan seeks to maintain the highest level of safety in its air space and remains ready to contribute to the global aviation network.
Taiwan is now an integral part of the Asian air transport network. There are hundreds of flights each week between the island nation and the Chinese mainland. Cooperation between the civil aviation authorities of the two countries is a daily reality, yet the machinations of politics make the recognition of this open, transparent teamwork an impossibility.
The launch of direct flight services between Taipei and Seoul on April 30 this year completed the last piece of an air transportation network, the Northeast Asian Golden Aviation Circle, planned by the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to link Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, making travel in the region more convenient. Simultaneously, air transportation links between Taiwan and Mainland China, which were inaugurated in July 2008, have increased to 558 a week, with an average passenger load of 77.6 percent.
Passenger traffic at Taiwan’s airports in 2011 totaled 41.39 million, a five-year high. Cargo amounted to 1.74 million metric tons. Taiwan has signed aviation agreements with 50 countries and regions to date. In the last two years, the government of Taiwan has signed, renewed or revised aviation accords with Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and the United Kingdom to increase flight destinations and frequencies. At present, eight Taiwanese civil aviation companies serve domestic routes including outlying islands or destinations within Asia. China Airlines (CAL), Taiwan’s state-backed airline and its largest carrier, along with EVA Airways, the country’s second-largest airline, fly extensive worldwide routes, while 52 foreign airlines, including 13 from Mainland China, have set up operations in Taiwan. They serve 165 passenger routes and 93 cargo routes in total, connecting to approximately 110 cities in 33 countries and regions.
All this makes a mockery of Taiwan’s exclusion from the hallways of ICAO and IATA, a situation that must be rectified  . . . and soon. The world’s aviation industry recognizes Taiwan and its strategic importance in the Asian network. It is time for politicians to wake up to reality and do the same.
Direct air links across the Taiwan Strait now allow Mainland Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan individually rather than as members of politically manipulated and controlled tour groups, which has increased the demand for cross-strait seats on flights. The open skies agreement signed between Taiwan and Japan in November 2011 allows an unlimited number of carriers from Taiwan and Japan to operate scheduled flights between the two countries. It also gives each side “beyond rights,” which allow Taiwanese airlines to pick up passengers in Japan on the way to a final destination in a third country.
Ever since European Union (EU) nations and a number of other countries started offering visa-free entry,  more and more Taiwanese citizens are making long-haul overseas trips. The upcoming inclusion of Taiwan in the US visa-waiver program will further passenger growth. Currently, 128 countries and regions worldwide allow Taiwanese travelers to enter without visas; many more, incidentally, than those that allow free entry to Mainland Chinese.
China Airlines (CAL) now flies to 111 destinations in 28 countries in Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania. Its competitor, EVA Airways has seen a steady climb in passenger numbers in recent years. Occupancy for EVA flights to Mainland China rose 100 percent in 2009, 170 percent in 2010, 209 percent in 2011 and is projected to grow 251 percent in 2012. Cross-strait flight services now account for 15 percent of EVA’s overall revenue.
China Airlines has signed Codeshare agreements with major American and European airlines allowing a flight operated by one airline to be jointly marketed as a flight by one or more other airlines, and to allow two or more airlines to issue tickets on behalf of each other.
CAL also joined the SkyTeam Alliance, a group of international airlines, in September 2011 as its 15th member. The SkyTeam Alliance’s global network offers 14,700 flights daily to some 950 destinations in 173 countries. Alliance customers can earn frequent flyer mileage for travel on member airlines and use lounges operated by any member carrier. SkyTeam membership represents the global aviation industry’s recognition of Taiwan’s China Airlines.
Similarly, EVA was accepted as a member of the Star Alliance, another global carrier group, in March this year. The Star Alliance’s network of 30 airlines offers more than 22,000 flights daily to 1,345 destinations in 191 countries.
For CAL and EVA, the endeavors to upgrade operations and service quality have paid off in several awards and honors granted by industry experts and travelers. The US-based Aviation Week magazine ranked CAL as the world’s 10th mainline carrier in its 2011 Top-Performing Airlines study. EVA was voted one of the world’s 10 best airlines by readers of the New York-based Travel + Leisure magazine in 2010, and has been rated as one of the top 10 safest airlines in the world by Germany’s Aero International magazine every year since 2004.
It is not only an ironic, but also a very sad reflection on the state of the world when one of Asia’s powerhouses, one of the four Asian Tigers, is not recognized by the world community despite its leading position geographically, economically, spiritually and socially among nations in its own environment but also as an example to the rest of the world.
The United Nations is a nest of weak-minded hypocrisy incapable a of facing reality, a place where political expediency gives way to political pressure, a place where convenience overrides the just claims for security and safety in aviation. The United Nations, as an organization, is the antithesis of the ideals of democracy.
Countries with small populations, often with fewer inhabitants than a small town in Taiwan, with no airlines, perhaps a couple of under-equipped, dangerous airports, corrupt officials, failed economies and overblown, lazy bureaucracies, can bargain their votes for money, prostitute themselves for a handful of silver, and continue to deny a country like Taiwan the recognition it deserves for creating success out of misery, democracy from dictatorship, and a freedom to fly the skies in safety and security. It is time for the nations of the world to welcome Taiwan into the fellowship of the international communities.

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