New security charge at airport

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 12:00am

Air passengers leaving Hong Kong will have to pay an extra $13 to cover the cost of improved security in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, officials have announced.

The surcharge, which takes effect on May 1, will generate another $208 million a year for the Airport Authority, which says the money will be spent on more and improved hardware to thwart terrorists.

Authority chief executive officer David Pang Ding-jung said: 'Since it [airport security] is so important, we must have a stable income source to provide a solid service. That is one of the reasons.'

At present, departing passengers pay a $20 'security fee' to airlines when they buy tickets. Seven dollars of this goes on baggage handling in the secure area and the remaining $13 is spent on general security by the authority.

The new $13 charge will double the amount that goes on general security.

About 33 million passengers passed through Chek Lap Kok last year, but only 16 million paid the fee. The remainder were in transit.

The extra money will be spent on upgrading metal and explosive detectors, X-ray machines, computer equipment and the baggage systems which ensure people board planes on to which their luggage has been checked.

The authority has asked the airlines to collect the fee on its behalf.

The Board of Airline Representatives said it would meet the authority next week to discuss the details.

Wong Sau-ying, the authority's senior communications manager, said that on average they were currently spending $26 per passenger on security. The new charge would help bridge the gap, she said.

'It is unfair for Hong Kong taxpayers to subsidise the security of the airport, given that only 27 per cent of the passengers last year were Hong Kong residents,' she said.

Ms Wong described the increase as moderate, adding that it was in line with international practice.

'It is a general international trend in the industry that the governing bodies of airports want to create a distinct and separate source of revenue for security,' she said.

She said major airports around the world had introduced aviation security charges after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The new charge at Chek Lap Kok will be the lowest.

Ms Wong believes the surcharge will not affect the local tourism industry.

'It is a very small amount for travellers. People will appreciate the safety our services bring to them.'

Canadian airports are to levy $117.80 in aviation security charges on passengers from April 1. Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is to collect $35.20 and all airports in the United States are now charging passengers $19.50 a head.

Democratic Party legislator Sin Chung-kai said the new charge would drive travellers to mainland airports.

'Travellers may choose to use Shenzhen airport instead to avoid the extra costs. The Airport Authority should think how to cut costs,' he said.

Legislator Howard Young, representing the tourism industry, also expressed concern about the new charge.

'The authority must compensate airlines and travel agents for their work in helping them collect these charges, in particular travel agents, as more than 90 per cent of Hong Kong air tickets are sold through travel agents,' Mr Young said.

Ronnie Yuen Ka-chai, chairman of the Travel Industry Council, said the authority should have sought the council's opinion before making the move.

'I hope this is the last time they do this. Having said that, security is necessary and important, and $13 is very moderate,' he said.