Ex-pilot casts doubt over proposed third runway

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am


A former pilot has questioned the effectiveness of a proposed third runway at Chek Lap Kok in increasing the number of flights able to land and depart.

The Airport Authority says the new runway, which is opposed by environmentalists, will increase hourly aircraft movements to 102 from 68, relieving congestion as passenger and freight traffic grows.

But Jan Bochenski, a Cathay Pacific pilot for 21 years, cast doubt on the claims. He identified the escape routes - the paths used by planes when a landing is aborted - as a significant restraint on the airport's plans.

'It's impossible for the government to achieve this number [of flights],' he said. 'The three runways could not be run independently because the planes could not take off or land at any time.'

Pilots aborting a landing must make a U-turn off either Ma Wan or Tai O and head back out over the South China Sea to queue up to land again. Only one plane can use the escape route at a time, and Bochenski says geographical constraints make it difficult to plot a new escape route specifically for the use of the third runway as two mountains - Castle Peak and Tai Mo Shan - stand to the northeast of the airport.

A spokesman for the Airport Authority said the projected figures were based on the location of the third runway - which was chosen in accordance with standards set down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, while the Civil Aviation Department said routes for arrivals and landings were in accordance with international standards.

But Bochenski said extra runways did not necessarily mean fewer delays, pointing to the example of the crowded skies over Shanghai.

'Shanghai has two airports with three runways each and without terrain problems, and they have the worst delays in the world,' he said.

Plans for the new runway came under fire from former Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying, an environmental adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's election campaign. He says the amount of land which would be reclaimed could be greatly reduced by making better use of land between the two existing runways.