Cathay Pacific

New route to Shanghai seen easing flight delays

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am

Notorious flight delays between Hong Kong and Shanghai could be reduced when Beijing approves an additional air route connecting the two cities next year, the head of the mainland's Air Traffic Management Bureau said yesterday.

The new route, slated to open in the first quarter of next year, would almost double the capacity of the busiest route between the two cities now served by four airlines.

For example, of 34 departing flights from Hong Kong to Shanghai yesterday, at least 10 were delayed for 15 minutes or longer and two flights, each operated by Dragonair and Shanghai Airlines, were cancelled.

Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department figures show 1,099 flights on the route were delayed in January-July this year due to flow control measures imposed by the mainland.

Cathay Pacific Airways and China Eastern Airlines also serve this route. 'It is great news for Hong Kong to have this new air route,' ATMB head Su Lange said yesterday. 'We have been working on the details and hopefully will finalise it in October.'

He said the new air route would be parallel to existing air route 470, located 100 miles east of Hong Kong.

Air route 470 is the main corridor for flights from Hong Kong to Shantou, Nanjing and Shanghai. It also serves as a path for flights coming from Southeast Asia to the mainland via Hong Kong.

'The route is so congested that we have spent a long time liaising with different air traffic control regions to create a new route,' said Mr Su.

Hong Kong initiated a proposal to divert traffic flow from route 470 several years ago, a senior official at Civil Aviation Department said.

Strong travel growth in the Pearl River Delta has overloaded the air traffic control system. Air traffic grew 7 per cent to 8 per cent annually at the five airports in the Pearl River Delta. In Hong Kong, air traffic increased 88 per cent to 820 takeoffs and landings - or movements - per day this year from 449 in 1998.

But there are only two air routes available on the mainland side which means flights entering the mainland from Hong Kong get caught in a bottleneck. Making matters worse are flow control measures the mainland imposes from time to time, sometimes for military reasons.

'We have worked out some measures to increase the capacity of the two runways in Hong Kong by negotiating with mainland and Macau authorities,' said Norman Lo, director general of the Civil Aviation Department.

He said the two runways' maximum capacity could reach 70 movements per hour, up from the existing 54 if further improvements can be made, including harmonising air traffic control systems among the three locations and upgrading technical systems in Hong Kong.

CAD and Airport Authority Hong Kong are undertaking a consultancy paper on building a third runway. The paper would be finished in the first quarter next year, Mr Lo said.

'A third runway could maintain Hong Kong's market share and preserve its role as an air hub,' he said. 'But we also have to consider whether the air space could accommodate the new runway.'