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FILE PHOTO - A China Eastern Airlines passenger jet passes in front of the moon over Shanghai May 13, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
TAIPEI/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Taiwan's aviation regulator has stalled applications for new flights from China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines amid a row between Beijing and the self-ruled island over air routes, a regulatory official said on Friday.
Taiwan had not yet approved the applications to add flights during the approaching Lunar New Year holiday because in recent weeks the airlines had used four disputed air routes close to the island, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
This month China opened several disputed air routes, including a northbound M503 route in the Taiwan Strait, without informing Taiwan, contravening what the democratic government in Taipei said was a 2015 deal to first discuss such flight paths.
Taiwan has expressed concern the new routes are too close to existing routes that link it to airports on two groups of Taiwan-controlled islands lying close to China, and are a threat to flight safety.
China has denied safety could be affected, saying it had no need of Taiwan's approval for new routes.
China Eastern Airlines had applied to add 106 flights while Xiamen Airlines, majority-owned by China Southern Airlines, had applied for 70, the official said.
The applications were "still under review", he added.
More than 10,000 customers have made bookings for the yet-to-be approved flights, Xiamen Airlines said in an emailed statement that strongly urged Taiwan authorities to comply with popular demand.
"While the economic losses caused by these actions to the airlines are small, it will cause much inconvenience to people who want to travel," it said.
China Eastern Airlines declined to comment.
China's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment.
The M503 route has yet to be confirmed by both sides, meaning that potential safety concerns remain, Ho Shu-ping, the deputy director general of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration said on Friday, according to Taiwan media.
Taiwan had asked airlines not to use the route for the time being, but some airlines were still doing so, she added.
The administration has not received a response from China about its concerns, Ho said, adding, "On aviation safety there can be no compromise."
The Chinese aviation regulator has previously said the new routes, meant to disperse airspace congestion, would only be used by civilian flights.
China considers Taiwan a wayward province, and snapped official communications after the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won power in 2016.
It suspects Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for formal independence, though she has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.
(Reporting by Jeanny Kao in TAIPEI and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI; Additional Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez)