Fourth runway may be needed
The HK$136.2 billion it would cost to build a third runway at Chek Lap Kok may only buy six to eight years of growth in traffic for the airport before it is saturated again, according to Airport Authority figures.
In three public forums - the last of which took place on Saturday - to lobby support for the project, officials said the multibillion-dollar investment would cater for the airport's needs until 2030 and beyond, but did not say how far beyond.
A careful look at the figures provided in the Airport Master Plan 2030 - a blueprint outlining the airport's development for the next two decades - shows that even using the authority's 'prudent' projection of an average annual growth in air traffic of 3.2 per cent, the runway will be full by 2031. Taking the more 'aggressive' prediction of 3.6 per cent, the runway would reach capacity as early as 2029, six years after its opening in 2023. This does not take into account any delay the project may encounter during a construction over 11 years.
'The Airport Authority should tell the public if the third runway can only meet growth for a few years,' said Emily Lau Wai-hing, chairwoman of the Legislative Council finance committee that will determine if the project receives public funding. 'Do we need a fourth runway? We should listen to all opinions.'
Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said there was simply no more space for a fourth runway.
'It is ridiculous that such a costly project could just meet a few years of growth,' he said. 'The third runway is just 1 kilometre from a marine park in Lung Kwu Chau. If they built a fourth runway, the park would have to be removed. How many natural resources can we afford to lose in this expensive game chasing economic growth?'
The third runway would boost the airport's handling capacity from 68 flights an hour to 102, which translates into 620,000 movements a year. According to the authority's forecast, air traffic demand will reach 602,000 movements by 2030 based on annual growth of 3.2 per cent. If the growth continues for just another year, aircraft movements will reach 621,264 - already exceeding the capacity of a three-runway system by 1,264 flights.
Under the more robust prediction of 3.6 per cent growth each year the number of aircraft movements will exceed 600,000 by 2028, and over 620,000 by 2029 - one year before the end of a period where growth demand was said to be sustainable.
In fact, the third runway is likely to be saturated even earlier than that.
In the 20 years to 2010, the annual average growth for passenger throughput, cargo throughput and aircraft movements were, respectively, 4.8 per cent, 8.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent - all higher than the rate adopted by the authority in forecasting air traffic for the next 20 years to 2030. Besides, officials appeared to have used a lower base when plotting the growth curve; while aircraft movements reached 316,000 last year, the dot reflecting the number of flights for 2010 was put below the line of 300,000.
An Airport Authority spokesperson said last night that with future air navigation technology and improvements in air traffic management, runway capacity could potentially be stretched further.
'This may increase by about 10 per cent in future if there are enhancements in aircraft or air traffic control or the Pearl River Delta airspace structurer.'
It earlier said Hong Kong will lose more than 100 million passengers and 15 million tonnes of air cargo in the 10 years to 2030 without the third runway. Officials have said they will review the need of a fourth runway in due course.