When things start on a low note, the only way is up. But in 1998, when it opened for business, Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok looked as if it would never get off the ground. The chaos on opening day made headlines around the globe and it took quite some time before things calmed down.
Three years on, the airport is at the top of the league, chosen as the world's best airport by 412,000 passengers who responded to an airline research company's online survey. They found it efficient, comfortable, passenger-friendly and served by an excellent transport network to all parts of the SAR. The greatest achievement of the Airport Authority has been in climbing to these heights during some of the most testing times ever experienced in the Asia-Pacific region.
In terms of passenger volume, only four long-established European airports were ahead of Chek Lap Kok's 33.8 million for the 12 months to March. And none beat its record for cargo, with a throughput of 2.2 million tonnes in the same period. Although the airport has a three-million tonne capacity, China's entry into the World Trade Organisation, coupled with rapid growth in the Pearl River Delta, is expected to bring more business.
But this is just the start. A $37.4 million planning study is underway with the goal of making the airport into a city within a city, an aviation hub with state-of-the-art facilities to keep it ahead in a highly competitive industry. Plans include eight more stands in the cargo area capable of taking new and bigger long-haul aircraft.
Also on the drawing board is a vast commercial district developed on 57 hectares of land. It will have the SAR's second exhibition and convention centre and a new ferry terminal connecting to airports at Macau and Shenzhen and in the Pearl River Delta to serve mainland-bound travellers from Taiwan and mainlanders arriving for trips to Disneyland.
Most advanced is a logistics centre, expected to be up and running in two years. When completed the 'tradeport' will draw together all the skills at which the city excels, including cross-border liaison, cargo-handling, shipping, sourcing, trade and transport, banking, financial and legal services. Aided by information technology, this development will give the SAR greater appeal to foreign companies looking for a regional base and increasingly reliant on good logistic services.
Past mistakes consigned to history, the Airport Authority and all staff at Chek Lap Kok can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.