Flight delays grow longer as airport handles more traffic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong International Airport may be among the most efficient airports in the world, but with levels of air traffic reaching new highs every year passengers are also enduring longer delays.

Civil Aviation Department figures show that 24 per cent of incoming flights had delays of more than 15 minutes last year, compared to 20 per cent in 2008. Some 21 per cent of outgoing flights were delayed more than 15 minutes, from 18 per cent in 2008.

A senior department official said the figures still compared favourably with many airports in major European and American cities.

Last year, flights arriving at Chek Lap Kok were an average of 23 minutes late, while outgoing flights were 17 minutes late, despite measures adopted by the department to improve traffic. The average delay on all flights was up seven minutes in the past three years.

'Delays are caused by a lot of reasons - bad weather, airspace restrictions, aircraft performance and turnaround time, parking bays... delays in one airport or problems with one aircraft could lead to a chain of effects that delay another aircraft in another airport,' the official said.

In the 12 months to February, the airport handled 51.4 million passengers and 4.1 million tonnes of cargo - an increase of 10.1 per cent and 18.6 per cent over the same period last year. Aircraft movements grew by 11.8 per cent to reach 312,530.

A person close to the Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair, which made up about one third of the airport's total aircraft movements, said airspace controls imposed by the mainland posed challenges to their performance, although punctuality had improved since September after measures were taken on the mainland to enhance frequency.

The department said it would be able to handle eight more flights an hour, on top of the current 60, when a new air traffic control system arrived in 2013. However, that may not improve flight times as air traffic is expected to grow further.

Gary Chan Hak-kan, a member of the Legislative Council's transport panel, said delays could make it harder for Hong Kong to compete with cities such as Singapore as an aviation hub. He urged the government to seriously consider building a third runway. The administration is expected to issue a consultation paper on the subject in the next two months.