Domestic aviation industry in decline

The Taipei Times today reports that Far Eastern Air Transport is considering cancelling flights between Taipei and Tainan.

The carrier said yesterday that it was evaluating the possibility of canceling all flights between Taipei and Tainan as the route has suffered continuous losses since the high speed rail opened in January.

Far Eastern president Philip Chen (陳尚群) said they hoped the flights to Tainan could end as soon as possible, though the proposal would need Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) approval.

On average Taipei-Tainan flights are only 30 percent full.

This month, the company decided to reduce Taipei-Tainan flights from three to two per day.

I recently completed a paper on the future of the Songshan Airport for the Spatial Development class in the Taiwan Studies program. I will detail a few of the key points from it here.

The High Speed Rail (HSR) has a had a significant impact on air travel since it opened in January this year. Taipei to Taizhong flights were suspended at the end of April and Taipei to Jiayi flights in August. 

montly passenger numbers at Taipei Songshan Airport 2006 and 2007

The graph above shows monthly passenger numbers at Songshan Airport from August 2005 to August 2007. In the three months from June to August 2007 Songshan Airport had 1,151,407 passengers. This compares with 1,787,617 in the same period in 2006, a decline of 35.6%.

Annual passenger numbers at Songshan airport 1996 to 2006

Even more telling is the graph looking at annual passenger numbers at Songshan over the last ten years. This data is for the period up to the opening of the HSR. It can be seen that the annual number of passengers has declined 56.3% from 1997 to 2006.

This is probably to do with improvements to the road network and increased levels of car ownership. The deregulation of inter-city bus services in 1998 may also have had some impact.

It seems the HSR may be the final nail in the coffin for domestic aviation routes between cities on the west coast of Taiwan. I don't think this is a bad thing as the HSR simply provides a better, more convenient alternative. The soon to open Kaohsiung MRT will make using the HSR an even more convenient choice for people in Kaohsiung.

I think it is only a matter of time before Songshan Airport is closed. It will most likely happen around the time that the MRT link to the Taoyuan Airport is completed in 2013.

6 thoughts on “Domestic aviation industry in decline

  1. While campaigning for Taipei Mayor in 2006 Frank Hsieh said he wanted to turn the airport into a park. Lee Ying-yuan also put forward a similar idea in 2002.

    The KMT still has dreams of flights from Songshan to Shanghai. However, I think this should be opposed for practical reasons rather than getting into the politics of direct flights to China. The airport is too small and its facilities can’t be expanded to cope with international flights.

    Personally, I think development of a park or sporting facilities would be the best thing. However, other possibilities include an R&D centre, educational precinct or a model “eco-city”.

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  3. 1. I’m amazed at the lack of security on the HSR. This helps to make it a convenient alternative to the plane. No luggage scanning…zip.

    So how long before someone tries something? Then it’ll be security checks, queues…….

    2. With 150+ km of the track built on piers all it’s going to take is one quake to stop the whole network. Then what if no SongShan and no planes? Back to bus?

    3. Tainan HSR station. Not exactly convenient – 30 mins out of town.

  4. This is very good news really… HSR has much smaller carbon footprint than jets. Besides, I’ve always been amazed at the number of airlines and airplanes operating in Taiwan.

    As far as what to do with SongShan, I guess it depends on what the Air Force has in mind… even if SongShan is shut down for domestic air travel, there is no guarantee that the military will give it up.

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