Congestion 'will force mainland to open skies'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong's airport chief is confident authorities on the mainland will open up their airspace soon because congestion there is more of a problem.

Marvin Cheung Kin-tung, the Airport Authority's chairman, told businessmen and entrepreneurs discussing the plan for a third runway at the airport that sooner or later Beijing would have to deal with growing congestion in the skies.

While those at the event, hosted by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, supported the project in general, Mike Rowse, former director general of InvestHK, questioned whether airspace over the mainland could accommodate air traffic growth.

By 2030, airlines in the greater Pearl River Delta were expected to be carrying 240 million passengers a year, he said. 'I don't quite worry about competition from the mainland airports, but I do worry about the total capacity of air corridors in the vicinity of Hong Kong ... is there a finite limit to how many aircraft the Pearl River Delta can handle?' Rowse asked. Without providing figures, Cheung said the opening of airspace would be a more urgent matter for mainland airports than Hong Kong.

'Airspace in China is owned entirely by the military. They only release corridors for civilian traffic, and their traffic is increasing at much faster rate than Hong Kong's. So sooner or later, they will have to deal with this problem,' he said.

Some aviation experts have suggested that even with a third runway, the capacity of Hong Kong airport will not be fully utilised due to constraints in mainland airspace.

The authority says a third runway would boost capacity from 68 flights an hour to 102 flights, or 620,000 air movements a year, by 2030. However, terrain and airspace limitations mean that it is still 30 hourly flights short of what could have been achieved. Airport Authority chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung said the airspace issue only affected flights to and from the mainland, which now made up about one fifth of the total aircraft movements handled by Hong Kong.

However, that proportion of flights is expected to become more significant. While the authority says the third runway will bring HK$912 billion of economic benefits over 50 years, Cheung did not say how much revenue it will bring the authority - which has been profitable and has issued up to HK$13 billion in dividends to the government since 2003.

Public consultation on a third runway runs until September 2.