TAIPEI, Taiwan – Chinese jetliners touched down in Taiwan on Saturday, completing the first nonstop flights between the rivals since a bloody civil war split the two sides 56 years ago.
A pilot smiled and waved from his cockpit window after landing his China Southern Airlines (search) plane, which took off from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou carrying 277 Taiwanese businesspeople and their families home for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Many of the travelers wore matching red vests and baseball hats, and they walked under an arch made of yellow and red balloons in an airport reception room. They were greeted by giddy lawmakers, officials and a large group of TV cameramen.
The Guangzhou-Taipei flight took about 11/2 hours. Minutes after the plane landed, another Chinese carrier, Xiamen Airlines, completed a flight from Guangzhou (search) to the Taiwanese capital.
Taiwan's two biggest carriers, China Airlines (search) and EVA Airways, were to make their first flights to Beijing on Saturday.
Taiwan had banned Chinese airlines from flying to the island since the Communists won the civil war and took over the mainland in 1949. Taipei has worried that Chinese bombers and troop planes disguised as airliners might be used to attack the island, 100 miles off the mainland's southern coast.
But Saturday's flights were the first of 48 that Beijing and Taipei approved for the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, which begins Feb. 9.
They marked a rare break in feuding across the Taiwan Strait (search), one of the world's most dangerous potential flashpoints.
The flights symbolize "the hopes of the two sides for peace, stability, dialogue and mutual development," said John Chang, a Taiwan legislator who helped to arrange the flights and spoke at a send-off ceremony at Beijing airport.
Chang is the grandson of Taiwan's former president, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who led his Nationalist forces to the island after losing a civil war on the mainland to Mao Zedong's communists.
Traditional dragon dancers in orange-and-yellow costumes performed at down in biting cold on the airport runway.
In a diplomatic gesture, the red Chinese communist flag on the fuselage of the Air China plane making the first flight was covered. The logo on the plane's tail — a stylized red bird on a white backdrop — was repainted in black and white for the flight.
Until Saturday, travelers between Taiwan and China had to stop over in Hong Kong — which enjoys a special status and is not directly ruled by Beijing — or another third point en route between Taiwan and the mainland, turning a trip that could be a few hours into a full day's journey.
But Taiwanese businesses that have invested more than $100 billion on the mainland are lobbying their government to end the ban. They complain that travel by way of Hong Kong or another third point is too time-consuming and costly.
The charter flights are "very convenient. We hope that the two sides will find a way to have it during non-holiday times," said Tseng Yun-chig, who works in Beijing for a Taiwanese charity and attended the ceremony Saturday morning.
Tseng's group, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation, is to get the profits from a Hainan Airlines flight from Guangzhou, the government said.
Tseng said she plans to fly back to Taiwan on another of the flights on Feb. 5.
"A normal flight would be eight to 10 hours," she said. "This one will only be three to four hours and is a third of the price."