Chek Lap Kok airlines and traders will be helped to ride out downturn
Joseph Lo and Annette Chiu
The relief package could be released today, say sources
The Airport Authority is poised to unveil a package of measures aimed at helping airlines and franchise operators at Chek Lap Kok ride out the downturn in air travel through Hong Kong.
Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung told legislators that authority chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king had told a meeting with government representatives yesterday that a list of concessions had been put together and would be released soon.
Industry sources said the airport relief package could be announced today barring further last-minute negotiations.
A key airport franchisee, Hongkong Air Cargo Terminals (Hactl), the biggest cargo handling facility at Chek Lap Kok, has also announced that it will help airlines by halving the fees charged for office space at SuperTerminal One.
Hactl's measure will take effect next month and will last for three months. It is believed the cost-savings to airlines, almost all of which carry both passengers and cargo, will total about $700,000.
Hactl marketing director Summit Chan said: 'The Sars breakout has been affecting passenger airlines and passenger load factors are bad. We hope our measure will bring some relief to airline customers immediately.'
'Our decision was made last week, before the Easter holiday, at the request of individual airlines. But we decided to cut the rent for all our tenants,' he said.
Airport officials declined to comment on what measures they would adopt to help airlines.
But the authority is unlikely to reduce charges dramatically, given that the downturn is being driven by fear of the disease rather than by economics.
Passenger throughput at Chek Lap Kok has fallen by as much as two-thirds in recent weeks, as travellers avoid flying to cities believed to be infected by Sars.
No amount of discounting is likely to persuade travellers to return to Hong Kong until the health fears have died down.
Industry sources have speculated that it is likely the authority will offer only a token reduction in the prices of some services and instead allow airlines to defer some payments of user charges.
The Board of Airline Representatives, a trade group which represents more than 70 airlines operating in Hong Kong, said it welcomed Hactl's decision to slash office rents for airlines.
'With the passenger market so depressed, the cargo business represents an even more vital source of airline revenue,' said board cargo sub-committee chairman K.K. Leung.