Private jets face squeeze at airport
Chek Lap Kok is running out of parking space for business jets, and there is no quick solution in sight.
Aviation experts fear the congestion at the Business Aviation Centre will reach breaking point in two years unless its neighbour, the Government Flying Service, relinquishes some of its space for use by private jets.
But talks between the two bodies have so far failed, and up to 21 business jets are now parking head-to-tail on the BAC apron.
The GFS operates a search and rescue service and its apron is twice the size of BAC's and accommodates just four helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft. 'We have been lobbying hard with the GFS over the years ... it's tough, but we are still working on it,' said Madonna Fung Wai-yee, the general manager of BAC.
Meanwhile, the number of private jets in the city keeps rising and is expected to reach 100 by the end of this year, according to David Dixon, a vice-chairman of Asian Business Aviation Association.
Some business jets are already parking at the end of the runways and in some cases, it may take as much as three hours to manoeuvre a private jet across the airport.
The Airport Authority, the landlord of both BAC and GFS, was aware of the problem and had asked the GFS to surrender some of its space, a source said.
Options proposed by the authority included sub-leasing a helipad at the rescue department to the BAC, or relocating the GFS to another part of Chek Lap Kok, said West Wu, the chief pilot (operations) of GFS.
However, after taking into account the need for the GFS to respond to emergency operations, the rescue department turned down the proposals in 2010. 'We can't risk delaying rescue operations because of any disruption caused by the parking of business jets on our apron,' Wu said. 'We feel for them but we can't do much at the moment.'
But a private jet operator thought it was unreasonable for the GFS to insist on retaining its helicopter service at the airport.
'Helicopters can be placed anywhere - anywhere with a helipad. It doesn't make sense to operate at the airport as they don't need to perform cross-border operations,' said Chris Buchholz, the chief executive of Hong Kong Jet.
The proposed third runway, which is awaiting government approval, will provide up to 12 extra parking spaces by 2014 and this could buy some time for the BAC.
However, the high-density parking on the BAC apron has led to safety concerns. Wing-tip collisions can have disastrous outcomes, say aviation experts, because this is where fuel tanks are located.
'It is especially hard for us to find a parking place at the airport now as more freighters are idled and grounded due to the economic downturn,' said Y.C. Yeung, the director of operations at BAC.
To maximise parking space, the BAC has adopted the concept of 'divided flats' where two private jets park at one lot.
In the meantime, the Airport Authority and the BAC were studying the logistics of effectively moving jets across the airport, Fung said.
Aircraft movements at the BAC have nearly doubled to 600 per month from about 300 in 2008.
Complaints from private jet operators and owners about service disruptions arising from the shortage of space were putting staff at the BAC under great pressure, said Yeung.
To mitigate the space shortage problem, the BAC is talking to Macau Airport about accommodating the overflow of private jets from Chek Lap Kok.
Hopes of relocating the GFS are dim because of the shortage of land at Chek Lap Kok, said a source with the Airport Authority. 'Taking into account the land shortage at the airport, the problem at the BAC is not a priority,' the source said.
'The authority keeps in close contact and dialogues with different business partners to see to their needs,' an authority spokesman said. 'We try to facilitate the requirements of different users according to our actual operational situation.'
In Asia, private jets are regarded as a rich man's privilege rather than a business tool.
'Generally speaking, the big names in Forbes (the publisher of the world's rich list), deploy business jets as a tool to look for new opportunities, as their executives can travel more efficiently,' Dixon said.
Hong Kong, as one of the world's largest markets for initial public share offerings, needed to support the growth of private jets, a key element in a service-based economy, he said.
The number of travellers who passed through Chek Lap Kok last year