Macau airport missing take-off gateway

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 1997, 12:00am

Macau International Airport is wasting a 'golden opportunity' to capitalise on Kai Tak's stretched operations by pricing itself out of the market, senior Hong Kong air industry figures say.

Jim Eckes, principal of consultancy firm Indoswiss Aviation, said Macau, with about the same fees as those offered at Kai Tak, was missing its chance to lock in established international airlines.

Mr Eckes described Macau's stance on airport charges as 'crazy'. Hong Kong was turning away more than a hundred flights a week, 'and this would be a perfect time for those turned down by Hong Kong to go to Macau'.

Macau authorities are holding fees at present levels as part of an overall bid to ensure the airport is paid off over a reasonable period of time.

However, the airport is known to be operating well below its capacity.

Mr Eckes has been joined in his questioning of the Macau airport's strategy in setting fees by Board of Airline Representatives deputy chairman Gilbert Chow, who said: 'Are they doing enough?' Mr Chow, who is also the general manager of Northwest Airlines in Hong Kong, said Macau authorities should be looking to the future in setting their costs.

'If they take a longer view and do not leave user charges at such a high level, they might be able to attract more operators,' he said.

Another industry figure said the two plus points that were on Macau's side in relation to Hong Kong were in danger of slipping away. That Macau airport was on line before Chep Lap Kok, plus the cost differential, were factors in Macau's favour, he said.

'They should be a lower-cost alternative to Hong Kong, but instead they want to generate a return on the amount they spent on the airport.

'It is better for them to take a long-term view, and develop a stable and broader business base - attracting as many carriers and establishing them using the airport,' he said.

Mr Eckes said now was the critical time for Macau authorities to take the initiative and lock in customers by treating them well.

This was particularly the case with the opening of Chep Lap Kok, and the extra capacity it would offer, now just a year away, he said.

There was virtually endless scope for growth in the capacity of Macau's airport. He described it as 'tremendously under utilised'.

It could be a 24-hour airport if it drew enough customers, because of the lack of residential development around it.