Taxpayer funded trips for 300 approved to keep Shanghai air route

The Kagoshima prefectural assembly on Friday approved 34 million yen in outlays to send 300 government employees, teachers and citizens on four-day trips to Shanghai in order to maintain an air link served by a Chinese airline that has been marked by slow traffic.

The "training program" appropriations drew sharp criticism from citizens and assembly members who said it is a waste of taxpayers' money and it would only serve as a temporary boost.

On Friday morning, Gov. Yuichiro Ito retracted an initial draft budget totaling 118 million yen to fund trips for 1,000 people to "inspect" local government agencies and Japanese schools. Ito resubmitted a scaled-down version for 300 people.

On the resubmitted plan, Ito told an assembly meeting, "We reviewed it based on views given by the assembly. It is an emergency measure to keep the route afloat." He also indicated that he may consider extending the program depending on traffic volumes on the route.

China Eastern Airlines operates twice weekly flights between Kagoshima and Shanghai. Demand for air service on the route has been sluggish due to deteriorating bilateral relations over a territorial dispute and the impact of bird flu in China.

Starting July 10, 100 each of local government employees, teachers and citizens are expected to take three-night, four-day trips through September.