Pingtung seeks to revive fortunes of Hengchun Airport

Taipei-Hengchun Airport in southern Taiwan's Pingtung County has been trying to drum up new business after ending domestic flights more than three years ago.

Pingtung County authorities, keen to revive the airport which stopped accepting domestic flights in September 2014, have tried to turn it into a multi-purpose facility, including renting it out to groups for qigong, hosting banquets and aviation training camps.

For more than a year, a group of qigong practitioners have exercised at the terminal every Friday. The group's members are reportedly very satisfied with the arrangement, particularly the quiet and spacious environment, describing it as a "five-star" venue, Han Jui-sheng (???), Hengchun Airport director said.

Hengchun Airport, originally a military airport during the period of Japanese colonial rule, was converted into a civilian airport during the term of former President Chen Shui-bian (???), as part of the central government's efforts to boost regional development.

The airport, the southernmost such facility in Taiwan which was refurbished at a cost of NT$600 million (US$20 million), opened in October 2004.

However, a strong downslope wind in spring and winter raised questions about safety and visitor arrivals dropped from 23,000 in 2004 to 768 in 2014, before flight services were halted in September that year.

Despite heated debate about the fate of the airport, Pingtung County has been reluctant to give up on the facility and embraced all manner of ideas to generate income, according to a report published by the Chinese-language China Times Monday.

The report cites Pingtung County government spokesman Huang Chien-chia (???) as saying passenger volume should not really be a problem for the airport as the famous Kenting beach resort, a major tourist attraction, is in the county.

Huang blames administrative issues related to aviation rights, a military no-flight area and other technical issues as serious headache for aviation companies that undermined the operational efficiency of the airport.

If the runway at Hengchun Airport, just 1,800-meter long and only capable of accommodating landings by ATR planes, is lengthened to 2,400-2,600 meters, it could also service ERJ aircraft, including charter flights, Huang enthused.

Han was quoted as saying that the central government has no plans to close the airport in the short term and so it is extremely important to make the most of it.

In August last year, an ATR plane landed at the airport as part of a training course -- the first aircraft to use the airport since late 2014, the report said.

Apart from continuing to serve as a site where the military and private companies test fly airplanes or hold training camps, Hengchun Airport has also been rented out to shoot commercials by car companies, TV series and by MV producers, the report said.

At present, the airport is run by a skeleton staff, including a director, technician, an air traffic controller as well as three airport policemen and seven firemen, the report said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel