Swire Group

Authorities give Cathay Shanghai connections a lift

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am

The number of on-time Cathay Pacific flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai has risen more than sixfold in the past seven months after mainland authorities introduced a new air traffic control policy, the airline's chief executive said yesterday.

At a lunch to lobby support for Hong Kong International Airport building a third runway, John Slosar said the improvement illustrated how efficient mainland officials could be when they put their minds to resolving important issues - such as freeing up the mainland's congested airspace.

'One day in November, I was looking at the on-time performance rate for China, and it suddenly went way up, to 65 per cent. A few months earlier it would have been 10 per cent,' he said.

'China is interesting in that way: they don't tell us about things [beforehand] - they just happen.'

Shanghai is notorious for flight delays, with passengers regularly waiting more than an hour before take-off. To improve the situation the Civil Aviation Administration of China in November shortened the horizontal separation between aircraft from a minimum of 32 kilometres to 16 kilometres, in effect doubling the number of flights an air corridor could handle each hour.

Overall flight punctuality in the mainland has declined constantly from about 80 per cent in 2007 to 75 per cent last year, but officials said it would return to 80 per cent in the next five years. The administration is also studying the option of adding an airspace corridor next to the current one serving civilian flights.

The opening of airspace is crucial if Hong Kong builds a third runway (it would be ready by 2023).

A major proponent of the project, Slosar believes the high cost of the investment would be justified, pointing to the airport's economic role.

'It is impossible to imagine the Hong Kong economy being what it is today without the development of the airport,' Slosar said. Cathay would contribute to the project's cost by paying landing and aircraft parking charges.

If the third runway project failed to go ahead, Slosar said Cathay may be forced to invest elsewhere as it would no longer be able to expand in Hong Kong.

While the runway may bring a financial return of 5 per cent to the government, it is expected the airline could earn at least three times as much in profit. Slosar said the 5 per cent return for the government did not take into account the jobs and economic benefits the project would create.

On the environmental front, the airline chief said he believed that Hong Kong's air quality has not yet reached such a breaking point that the government should sacrifice all economic growth and the city's connectivity with the world.