Welcome on board! If you are a newcomer on this website, you do not know that a FR departing from TSA is a long and tedious tale overburdened by over a hundred pictures, before the final fireworks. Go and get yourself a mug of coffee first if you want to stay awake until to the end.
(Note: it takes time to translate a lengthy FR. Be patient, eventually you will be able to read them all in English. This one was originally published in my native French here)
To the members of our Marathon FR Frequent Readers program, it is a pleasure to see you again.
Now that the page is uploaded, please fasten your seatbelt, straighten your seat and fold your table. We shall start the demonstration of the uselessness of our destination airport and of this FR, please pay attention to it.
Pingtung (PIF) and Hengchun (HCN) are useless airports built for electoral reasons. Another waste of public money. This comment of one of my Taiwanese colleagues native of Kaohsiung (KHH) makes sense: 71 km between KHH and HCN, and 19 km between KHH and PIF, is it reasonable ?
(thanks to Google Maps)
This is especially true because if Pingtung is a satellite town of Kaohsiung, Hengchun is a beach destination at the entrance of Kenting National Park. There are few permanent inhabitants in Hengchun, which endures typhoons and searing heat in summer and gales in winter.
Derided as the Mosquitoes airport by its opponents, the commercial operation of PIF only lasted six years, from 2005 to 2011, which does not stop Google to provide dozens of pages of links to travel agents and search engines to the request Pingtung flights, promising cheap flights from the most unlikely airports to that one which is no less unlikely, since PIF is now again the Taiwan Air Force base that it already was: they had simply moved the military to the other side of the two runways, which like in Hualien are quite far apart.
Hengchun fared marginally better. Choosing as its IATA code the chemical formula of a deadly poison did not bring much luck to Hengchun which barely survives: there are only three weekly flights from TSA … in high season. At the end of fall, the traffic drops to two flights per week, on Tuesday and Thursday.
Hengchun is served round the clock by long distance buses from Kaohsiung, which in turn is an hour and a half away from Taipei by high speed train, and the comfort in economy ridicules that of a Dash-8. Note the crowd on board the train on the last evening of a four day week-end.
The same applies to long distance buses, with 2+1 seating and frequent individual IFEs.
Who could then choose to fly to HCN, twice a week in the middle of the day ?
Few people, and that is while this airport has something of Sleeping Beauty castle. They really thought that the traffic would be there, and the few English language pages of the airport's website which have not been updated since before 2004 (!) list the advantage of the future HCN on PIF for the expected six million visitors of the national park in 2016, out of which 170,000 would fly.
My Lonely Planet tour book published in 2007 states that three airlines served HCN at that time. That was five years ago, but nobody believes in the future of this airport in terminal condition, if you allow this pun.
My work in Taipei included a fair amount of coordination with colleagues in the West, and I guessed that I would have very little to do in this regard on a day which is not a holiday in Taiwan: Tuesday December 25th, 2012.
Consequently, in the same category as sweets that you buy for Christmas when you spend it away from all your kin, I bought myself a one-way TSA-HCN ticket, flying to the airport which holds the Flight Report data base record of the least active airport with two weekly Dash-8.
Two planes per week, when they make it, that is, because one of my colleagues who wanted to spend a few days of well deserved rest on the beaches of Kenting has been detoured to KHH, because the Dash-8 could not land in HCN due to the weather there.
There was a bright blue sky in Taipei on Christmas day, with a few scattered clouds, nearly like that other day when I had a chance to go on the terrace of a city center building.
Left foreground, this is Taipei's main station, which looks a little to a Chinese temple and a lot to an architecture failure. Bus 1819 from TPE, that those who visited me in Taipei know well, arrives on the east side, on the right in this picture. In the center, in the distance, you can see the Grand Hotel which overlooks Taipei and TSA's tarmac. The Grand Hotel guests have a severe contre-jour, whereas from here, I had a decent view of that Transasia Airways ATR72 on final descent to TSA.
And this Uni-Air Dash-8 :
Unfortunately, Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan, and this is not the day when you receive presents, even though the shops overload their windows with decorations to try and convince the Taiwanese to spend their money for that reason too. On December 25, I received this SMS at 10:17:
Songshan-Hengchun Flight B7351 was cancelled due to the wind at the airport. I told you there were gales in winter! This is not the kind of place where you can be sure to land a Dash-8. Contrary to AF when a snowstorm grounds half a dozen A32x in FRA, Uni-Air, after sending that SMS, and then a second one to recall that the ticket was valid for one year, called the passengers to tell them the same, and called again in English when the said passenger did not seem to understand that this was not yet another commercial pitch, like 98% of phone calls in Chinese from unknown people on my cell phone. OK, this was only one 52-seater Dash-8, but flight cancellations are routine stuff at Uni-Air, and they are organized to handle that.
All I had left to do was to go to my favorite lane and buy myself a Delicious Christmas lunch.
Delicious? Indeed. These small food courts selling biandang (便當 – it is the Taiwanese equivalent of the Japanese bentô, and actually written nearly the same) all use the same standard boxes. They are quasi-self –serve: you point at the server what you want her to add to the initial ration of rice. It was ideally suited to whoever still does not know how to say eggplant in Mandarin, or read it in a Chinese menu.
It is on par with the KLM's economy class food, it is arguably less artistically laid out than a Japanese bentô, but it feeds you well and I am the living proof that you can survive quite well (too well actually), during two years on this kind of lunch.
(The illustration is an outrageous advertising lie: I never saw the smallest bit of fruit in these boxes which are not designed to contain fruit anyway.)
Tuesday December 25 had been quite calm in the office, and the next Tuesday was going to be even quieter, since this was a bank holiday and Monday would be off too. No problem to shift my plane ticket one week: who would want to fly to Hengchun the last day of a four day week-end ?
I checked the weather, and a miracle happened: sunshine and the wind would abate that day, and that day only. On January 1st in Hengchun, Taiwan' Central Weather Bureau predicted Beaufort 4 in day time, strengthening to 5: it was a reasonably safe gamble. They do not announce Beaufort numbers beyond 6: the wind can be much stronger than that here. Beaufort 5 on a scooter was already fun.
The subway provides a good view of TSA's tarmac just before it goes underground, and as you can see, the weather was poor in Taipei on January 1st.
It was dead quiet landside at TSA, in the morning of the last day of that four day week-end.
Uni-Air's check-in counters
As I had expected, my flight was not booked full, but note that some others were, which did not mean that there would be no seats available, as the Taiwanese are No-show World Champions.
Window seat on the left or the right? I had hesitated a long time during the previous days, since I did not know the route. Eventually, I decided to play it safe and chose the right side, with good lighting but on the wrong side with regards to the mountains.
No time to snooze in these comfortable sofas landside: rain or no rain, a Flight Reporter cannot decently avoid a visit to an observation deck when there si one, like at TSA.
Just after leaving the elevator, two TSA employees (one painted, and the other off screen) invite all visitors to use one of the umbrellas provided by the airport. This is what I call service to visitors.
Adults and kids alike enjoy plane-spotting under a majority of umbrellas bearing the color and logo of some generous sponsor. Do not expect top quality pictures with such a bad weather, even though I tried to improve them later.
Let's start pier side with this MD82 Far Eastern Air Transport MD-82.
Two Taiwan Air Force C-130, further away
The other pier-side aircraft is an E-190 Mandarin Airlines E-190
A flotilla of private jets on the apron
No identification for these
An A318 CJ, registered B-6411, if you want to search the net for its complete history
On the other hand, I did recognize the logojet of Want-Want, the food conglomerate of Tsai Eng-meng who controls a number of Taiwanese media.
Tsai Eng-meng, the richest Taiwanese tycoon, was at the time the target of demonstrations in Taiwan. Here, in the front of the Parliament, Chen Wei-ting, one of the leaders of the students movement, wearing a T-shirt with a caricature of his opponent, expressed his opposition to the sale by Next Media of four of its newspapers to a consortium of Taiwanese billionaires, including Tsai Eng-meng: it was feared that he would try to influence the editorial policy of these media in favor of Mainland China, where he made his fortune.
Let's go back to TSA: the Mandarin Airlines E-190 pulls away.
Meanwhile, passengers board the Transasia Airways (GE) ATR72, holding GE umbrellas on the way from the terminal
The umbrellas are recovered at the stairway.
A Uni-Air Dash 8-300 similar to the one that I am going to board
FAT's MD-82 leaves
the Mandarin Airlines E-190 pulls away.
And so does the Dash-8
Rotation of the M-82 in the background, in front of the E190 undergoing pushback. Yes, the picture is quite blurry, but you could not expect miracles with that drizzle and these @&#% tinted glass walls.
The ground staff salutes, as always
Push back of the ATR-72
Splash landing of B-5315, a Shanghai Airlines 738 with winglets, arriving from SHA.
There it is closer
It is followed shortly thereafter by its false twin B-5140, without winglets, coming from PVG.
This is its front view:
And its profile
Flight FM851 SHA-TSA was 50 minutes late, and flight FM801 PVG-TSA about which I posted FRs was 35 minutes late, which made them land in TSA nearly at the same time, although they were scheduled 30 minutes apart.
Plane-spotting stopped there, because not only the weather was not right, but also because I definitely did not want to miss my plane, especially on that line.
Free wifi, but the self use PCs have been definitively removed, because all the Taiwanese aged six and above have a smart phone and/or a tablet made by some of the 400,000 workers of Taiwan's Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. No, there is no typo: Foxconn does have that many employees in a single location, and over 900,000 on the Mainland.
On the other hand, a migrant workers has a 3kg (+ power supply) laptop under Windows XP which was already outdated when he left all his family in a desperate move to have them cling to survival in Paris.
There were so few passengers that I sat at one these tables, since nobody would trip on my power supply's cord plugged in one of the power plugs on the wall.
In the background, the only lounge for business or Elite passengers, but domestic flight do not accumulate airmiles.
Mandarin + English PA announcement: the aircraft would be delayed due to technical checks. The delay was nothing catastrophic: it was ATD+5' when I took this picture as boarding started.
You cannot see all passengers together, but there was no shuffle. About 25 PAX, which meant that the plane was half empty.
Another of these unusual bidirectional PAXbuses with doors on each of the four sides.
The winter fashion is a fuchsia down jacket on a blue jean, available in all sizes.
But I am not here to spot top models, but planes. A hopless task from within the PAXbus. Believe me or not, this is a Uni-Air Dash-8.
The PAX bus stops next to a ground staff with a heap of orange umbrellas (the former corporate color of Uni-Air, until it shifted to the green of its parent holding company in 2011), to shield us from the rain on the 20 m distance to the plane.
Again! This was the fourth time in five Uni-Air flights in two months that I board B-15237 !
There are fewer umbrellas than passengers, and this staff will bring them back to the next users.
An unusual destination sign on the stairs.
B-15237 did not change much, in the past two months, actually.
Studying the safety card is for all ages
The seat pitch is decent, much better than that of Transasia Airways's ATR72.
The first and last three rwos were initially empty (for mass centering reasons, I guess). I did not catch the reason, but a flight attendant proposed to some passengers to move forward.
Standard reminder to them who now sit at emergency exits.
You may not have realized it, but I included a video of the take-off. You only need to use your mouse wheel fast enough, it will be nearly the same.
Forget about the tourist bonus with aerial views of Taipei, the weather just isn't right.
The Keelung river, just before the plane reaches the first cloud layer.
The stiff penalties set by the Taiwanese civil aviation authority for using an electronic equipment in flight during a Taiwanese domestic flight do not seem to deter the passengers at seats 4D and 6D. Nor the one at seat 5D, for that matter.
Traveling alone or with two companions in a half empty seat is having an empty seat next to you.
The cover and one of the pages of the in-flight magazine: those who did not recognize Pingxi on the night of the Lanterns Festival can read again the tourist bonus of Flight TSA-HUN (in French).
A flight attendant distributes newspapers, including the English newspaper for the foreigner on board. How do you recognize that the China Post is Taiwanese, not Mainland Chinese? In that it mentions on the front page (top right) an article on Liu Xia, under house arrest and under strict police surveillance without trial for the crime of being the wife of Liu Xiaobo, 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace.
This newspaper tells me that Taipei's spectacular New Year fireworks show was by Company F, one of the leading French fireworks specialists. A French company exporting prestige fireworks to the Chinese civilization which invented them: would you believe it?
The fare on Taiwanese flights is water or tea or coffee; I found the latter less bad than usual, maybe because of a sore throat due to riding my bicycle to the fireworks the night before.
Left window or right window? The question was pointless: we fly at 14,000 feet, just above a thick layer of clouds and just above the height of Taiwan's highest mountains, which means that the view is limited to the turboprop.
Frankly, it is much more impressive than the GE-something so much acclaimed by some on this website. It is so gigantic that I can't even capture it all ;)
It is be far my longest flight in a Dash-8, and I take this opportunity to visit the toilets. They are narrow and clean.
The clouds dissolve south of Kaoshiung: the plane followed the west coast. It is not the most direct route, but the one which provides the most fallback runways.
The western coast of Taiwan, south of Kaohsiung
These are not rice fields…
…but aquaculture ponds, betrayed by the white spray of the air blowers.
The blue roofs of Hengchun's aquarium, the best I have visited after that of Osaka and way before that of Monterrey. If the weather is bad when you visit Hengchun, it is an excellent Plan B. If the weather is good, it is an excellent Plan A, except if you already used it as Plan B previously, like I did.
The plane leaves the airport on the left to land on runway 32. Here, the view to the south before final alignment, HCN being now on the other side. The Maanshan power station is in the center of the picture; we'll talk about it later.
Bad luck, I had a bad camera setting for that picture and have no better than that.
First crossing of Highway 26, which goes around the Kenting peninsula. It borders HCN's east side, but is not parallel to the runway, and we'll cross it again just before landing.
This gives you an idea of the density of the population, once you leave the highway.
These are not dwellings, but tombs.
A parking lot for vehicles to be used to welcome the Chinese if them cam for unfriendly purposes.
We crossed again Highway 26.
It let the passengers disembark, with the exception of this family which really takes its time
We landed in Hengchun, Taiwan southernmost and least active airport.
It's time to say farewell to B-15237, from one side
Note the passenger with her kid in the arms
From the other side
And to its mirror image too
HCN landside: it is plain. There isn't even a single New Year decoration, nor a tourist information booth. Why bother, for fewer than one hundred passengers per week each way ?
Taxis are always yellow in Taiwan: you see here the entire fleet of taxis and busses serving HCN.
In mandarin, you say 沒有 meiyou (=there isn't), but the last passenger who disembarked with her kid used good English to ask me: - Are you looking for something? - Yes, a bus or a taxi - There is none here; do you want us to give you a ride to the town?
No doubt, HCN is indeed in Taiwan. The Taiwanese are so nice. This couple works in Kaohsiung, but they spent the week-end in Taipei with her family, and will spend New Year Day (or what is left of it) with his family in Hengchun, before heading back home.
When you do not have relatives there, what for do you go to Hengchun? To see the monument marking the southern tip of Taiwan.
To see this wild and windy coast.
To observe the local species
Top : Slow down, land crabs crossing Down: I did not photoshop this young cyclist's hair
To boil an egg or sweet potatoes on the natural gas fires
And to have eco-friendly activities at sunset, like jet-skiing, on the background of the emblems of tomorrow's green energies adapted to a windy and seismic environment, like this wind generators and the concrete domes of the Maashan nuclear power plant. Well…
Let's leave this shifty terrain (and also a raucous one, during demonstrations in Taipei) and go back in time slightly, because Taipei was the place to be on December 31st, 2012, at midnight.
With over twenty million Taiwanese according to their passport or their heart,
To all those who call home the whole world To all those who travel worldwide so that our differences unite us, To all those who write Flight Reports and to all those who read them,
I send my best wishes for the years to come!
It's time for Taiwan!
Taipei City - TSA
Hengchung - HCN
It another of my Nowhere Else flights, which by essence are un-rateable. Reaching the distance one week and twenty minutes late is definitely LATE. Yes, I chose not to take the next flight on Thursday when the Christmas Day (Tuesday) flight was cancelled, but the minimum delay shrank only to two days, which is a lot. I can't grade it better than zero for punctuality; like several similar flights with Uni-Air.
How do you rate HCN's accessibility? Zero because there are no buses and no taxis, or 10 because total strangers spontaneously offer you a ride? Halfway will do.
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