China's M503 route takes off amid protests in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The M503 flight route was officially opened to commercial aircraft yesterday. Online flight tracking sites indicated that Dragonair Flight KA857 was the first aircraft to use the air route, flying from Shanghai en route to Hong Kong.

According to Chinese authorities, a total of 33 flights traversed the route on Sunday, which comes as close as 10 nautical miles to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait between mainland China and Taiwan.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, the Civil Aeronautics Administration indicated that flights in the M503 area did not affect air traffic around Taiwan. The Ministry of Defence noted that flight activity in the area showed no unusual movement of Chinese military jets traversing the route.

China unilaterally announced the route in January of this year. Protests from Taipei over flight safety issues led to China delaying its implementation and freezing plans for east-west flight paths within the M503.

A test flight that was jointly monitored by civil aviation officials on both sides of the Strait was conducted on March 16. China released an updated Notice to Airman (NOTAM) detailing the new flight route to pilots on March 20.

China's civil aviation authorities have argued that air traffic in the region prior to the M503 initiation included 1,200 daily flights, with 54 per cent of flights logging delays. Two-thirds of these flights are international flights.

Several carriers are applying to operate their planes in the M503, including Air China, China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Philippine Airlines , Dragonair and United Airlines.

Protests Continue amid New Route Operations

Protesters opposing the M503 route and the Taiwan's handling of its negotiation continued to direct anger at the government.

Members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union's youth organisation threw paint at the presidential compound on Saturday evening, decrying what they deem as an encroachment on Taiwan's sovereignty by Beijing.

Around 30 members of the group also demonstrated outside the Martyrs' Shrine by throwing eggs and slippers where President Ma Ying-jeou presided over memorial services for members of the nation's Air Force yesterday.

They were met by security personnel equipped with netting gear. Protesters vowed to return to the site of high-level talks between China and Taiwan scheduled to be held on the offshore island of Kinmen in April.