Hong Kong's third runway proposal

Hong Kong's third runway may stymie Shenzhen's big cargo vessels

Shenzhen port fears height restriction could restrict navigation of massive cargo vessels

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 10:57am

A proposed third runaway at the Hong Kong International Airport could cost port terminals in western Shenzhen millions of dollars a year in lost business.

The project, already criticised for its HK$136 billion price tag and potentially adverse impact on the environment, may also hurt relations between the neighbouring cities.

The problem comes in the form a height restriction on shipping passing close to the runway. The restriction would extend beyond Hong Kong waters and into Shenzhen's marine territory and could mean a new generation of massive cargo ships could not access western Shenzhen ports like Chiwan and Shekou without a huge detour.

The Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments are understood to be in talks over a solution. But people with knowledge of the discussions say the initial proposals from Hong Kong do not address long-term sea traffic demands and may compromise the competitiveness of port facilities in western Shenzhen.

According to a document seen by the South China Morning Post, the Airport Authority proposes to extend marine restrictions in place around the existing runways into Shenzhen waters to accommodate the third runway.

That would mean vessels standing 53 metres or taller out of the water could not use the Lunggu West Fairway, the most direct of the three routes into the western Shenzhen port terminals, at a time when shipping lines are increasingly using huge vessels standing 25 storeys or more.

Shenzhen authorities and port bosses fear the restriction will damage the ability of ports in western Shenzhen to compete with Hong Kong, eastern Shenzhen and the Nansha area of Guangzhou, which is benefitting from massive investment in improved access channels.

Large ships would have to take a detour through the less direct Tunggu Channel, or use Hong Kong's busy Ma Wan Channel.

China Merchant Holdings (International), the largest shareholder of Chiwan and Shekou ports, said such a restriction would have a "serious impact" on Lunggu West Channel's use.

The Hong Kong side is trying to convince Shenzhen the impact would be minimal. They say the height limit for the area of the channel falling directly beneath the flight path would be closer to 100 metres - much higher than any ship. The height limit elsewhere would exist on paper only. Shenzhen, for its part, wants Hong Kong to stop flights to and from the third runway when a huge ship passes.

Former Hong Kong civil aviation chief Peter Lok Kung-nam said that idea was a non-starter.

"If there's only one large vessel passing by each month, accommodating it is not a problem, but if there is one passing every day, of course there will be a problem," Lok said.

One Hong Kong marine officer said most of the ships passing through the channel now were below 50 metres, but the Shenzhen government hoped to expand the channel to accommodate bigger ships.

Professor Zheng Tianxiang , a veteran scholar studying cross-border infrastructure in the Pearl River Delta, said although Shenzhen authorities had no influence over the third runway, Hong Kong officials should ensure the expansion did not come at the expense of its neighbour.

"Hong Kong will need Shenzhen's help in many future projects like the high-speed rail line to Guangzhou and the rail line connecting Hong Kong's airport to Shenzhen's," Zheng said. "They should co-operate with each other with diligence and consideration."

The government is expected to make a final decision on the third runway in 2015.

An Airport Authority spokeswoman said plans for the third runway were not finalised. The authority is understood to be conducting an impact study to be completed next year.

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