Early date in sight for lifting flight restrictions
By ANDY GILBERT
RESTRICTIONS limiting the number of morning and evening flights at Kai Tak airport could be lifted as early as the end of the year, Civil Aviation Department director Peter Lok Kung-nam said yesterday.
More time slots are needed after 336 flight requests per week this summer were turned down. Saturation has been reached except in the early morning.
But because of noise concerns, the department agreed only to increase flights following public consultation, the first stage of which has been completed after informal meetings with five district boards.
The department could drop the restrictions without public agreement, but looks likely to win approval from district boards provided noise issues are addressed.
However, legislator James To Kun-sun, who represents the Kowloon area, part of which lies under the flight path, said it was too early for Mr Lok to start making predictions.
''As far as I'm aware no one has given an indication that they are willing to drop the restrictions,'' he said.
The number of flights from 6.30 am to 7 am and 9 pm to 11.30 pm is restricted to 18.
However, the department could accommodate 28 flights per hour during these periods and does so between 7 am and 9 pm.
During the past two months, members of Kowloon City, Eastern, Shamshuipo, Wong Tai Sin and Kwun Tong district boards have been shown round the airport by Mr Lok, who highlighted its saturation problems.
The visits have paved the way for formal consultations in October which could lead to 28 flights per hour throughout the day, increasing by one per hour each year as the airport is improved until the opening of Chek Lap Kok.
Due to bunching and delays throughout the day, 28 scheduled movements often increase to up to 37 during peak periods.
Mr Lok, speaking after an international air traffic controllers' conference in Hong Kong yesterday, said: ''What I have been doing with the district boards is hoping to get the residents' acceptance.'' He said the district board's response ''was not unduly adverse''.
''They know that [residents] would only have to put up with the noise for just a few more years before the new airport opens,'' he said.
He said while he did not expect 100 per cent support, he was hopeful that the restriction could be dropped.
More flights would generate millions more dollars for the economy. An extra 15 arrivals per day corresponds to approximately one million more passengers per year.
Hong Kong Tourist Association figures indicate the average tourist spends $8,000 dollars in the territory during a visit.
Mr To conceded the restrictions were likely to be scrapped, but felt it was too early to predict when.
''According to [Mr Lok's] schedule, there will be formal consultations in October,'' he said.
He said while there were serious environmental concerns, the restrictions would eventually be scrapped.
But he said there were time slots available in the morning which should first be filled.