Travellers may have to pay for third runway
The construction of a HK$136 billion third runway at Chek Lap Kok is poised to hit the pockets of travellers, as the Airport Authority says it will not rule out a levy on airport users to finance the project.
That prospect was raised yesterday by the Executive Council's in-principle endorsement of the government's plan to build a third runway, amid fierce opposition from green groups.
Cathay Pacific, the city's flagship carrier, has said such a fee may be reflected in air fares.
The authority yesterday said a surcharge was among the various financing options under consideration, including direct capital injection by the government and bond issues.
'We will not rule this out, as we will study all [financing] options,' said Stanley Hui Hon-chung, the authority's chief executive.
The HK$136 billion project - the largest single development in the city's history in monetary terms - will soon be assessed for its environmental impact, while design work and financing studies will also be done.
The authority is aiming for a full plan by 2014. The government hopes to make its final decision in 2015 and construction is expected to take eight years.
Hui said airports that make major investments in new facilities often levy surcharges. He also said Hong Kong's airport accepted the 'user pays' principle.
But it is too early to say whether such a levy would be imposed, and who would pay it.
James Barrington, Cathay Pacific's director of corporate development, welcomed Exco's endorsement, and said it was normal for airlines to pass costs on to travellers.
Joe Ng Cho-hin, vice-chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives, said he hoped the authority could balance its books without levying a surcharge.
Eva Cheng, transport and housing secretary, said it was too early to say whether the final price tag would be HK$136 billion.
Despite the high costs, Cheng said the third runway was crucial to various sectors of the economy. 'It is not just a piece of transport infrastructure, but an economic engine,' she said.
With three runways, the airport could meet the expected demand for air transport in 2030, create more jobs and bring in economic benefits forecast at HK$900 billion over 50 years, she said.
However, Exco's endorsement has disappointed environmentally friendly groups that oppose the project.
They say the 650 hectares of sea reclamation the project requires would threaten endangered dolphin habitats and fisheries resources, and increase air pollution.
WWF Hong Kong said the government was continuing to ignore the project's social and environmental costs. 'Clearly the government has difficulty hearing, but we will continue to make our voice loud,' said Andy Cornish, director of conservation.
The authority pledged yesterday to 'do whatever they can' to minimise and mitigate the environmental impacts, promising that the environmental impact study would be conducted in a 'prudent, transparent and professional' manner.
At least HK$100 million has been earmarked for the 18-month impact-assessment study, which will involve local and foreign experts.