SAR authority considers link with Zhuhai for express air-cargo facility

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Airport Authority is considering building a dedicated express air-cargo facility across the Pearl River in Zhuhai in co-operation with its mainland counterpart.

The authority yesterday asked interested parties to submit proposals for a consultancy study that would examine the potential for an express hub at the under-utilised airport in Zhuhai. The deadline for proposals is December 3 and the study deadline set for June.

Proposals are to 'assess the feasibility and benefits of co-operation between the airports at Zhuhai and Hong Kong . . . to formulate a strategy and implementation plan'.

While the authority said the study was in line with the long-term strategy laid out in its Master Plan 2020 released last month, the notice - posted on its Web site - caught many by surprise, including senior executives at the authority.

Executives at Chek Lap Kok's air-cargo companies, which have express facilities of their own, were caught off-guard.

One said: 'It seems very strange this happened given that there was no prior discussion where Zhuhai even popped up. We heard a couple of months ago executives from the four or five airports in south China had [met], but we thought it was more or less a get-to-know-you gathering. This is a complete surprise.'

An executive from another company expressed concern at the short time-frame for proposals: 'We had no notification from the [authority]. This is the first time I have heard anything about an express facility in Zhuhai. We are wondering what the hurry is.'

The two-week time limit for submissions compares with the almost two months the consultants for the Strategic Overview of Major Airport Development (Somad) study were given.

One item the HK$50 million Somad study looked at was the potential for future co-operative development of southern China air services.

'I haven't seen Zhuhai referenced anywhere. It is news to me, especially considering there are no flights into Zhuhai,' said a senior industry source who has been involved in Somad working groups.

Given the obvious urgency of the new study and the comprehensiveness of the Somad paper, many executives queried why the Somad team was not asked for input on the Zhuhai project.

An authority spokesman said the Hong Kong and Zhuhai governments were keen to conduct the study, and the express topic was chosen by Zhuhai executives.

'We are participating because we hope to find out the development potential of an express product in the Pearl River delta,' the spokesman said. 'The two-week deadline was set because the study will be so simple. It is not like the Somad study, where you had to do lots of calculation and all that.'

Asked why the authors of Somad were not consulted, the spokesman said: 'Somad only looks at development on Chek Lap Kok. This study will look into the mainland, which is our catchment area.'

The authority has delayed asking for submissions to build a second express hub at Chek Lap Kok. One issue holding it back is setting land premiums at a level that is fair to existing operators yet attractive to future ones.

The Zhuhai project was thought by some to be way out for the authority, a suggestion it flatly denies. 'I know of no plans to shelve the on-site express facility project,' the spokesman said.

An express executive, who has been following developments closely but had yet to be shown details of the Chek Lap Kok project, said: 'We have been pushing for an increase in capacity and an increase in access at Chek Lap Kok, and I guess this is the government response.

'But if Zhuhai is targeted at express, time will be the issue. And given that it is transit time, trans-border and customs issues will be substantial, I don't know how it could propose to overcome those.'