• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:41pm

Dubai nudging Hong Kong out as transit hub between Asia-Pacific and Europe

Runway boost unlikely to restore the city's role and competition is growing on mainland flights

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 11:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 5:25pm

Expanding the passenger-handling capacity of Hong Kong's airport, which is expected to run out by 2018, with a third runway - due to be completed 10 years from now - will fail to restore the city's role as a transit hub for flights between Asia-Pacific and Europe, analysts say.

Middle Eastern airports are muscling in on that turf, and Hong Kong may increasingly have to rely on traffic from the mainland, both outbound and inbound, to maintain its status as an air travel hub, remarks by analysts and airport management suggest - although here, as well, it is facing growing competition.

While traffic at Hong Kong International Airport showed lukewarm growth of 6 per cent last year to nearly 60 million passengers, that at Dubai International Airport jumped 15.2 per cent to 66.4 million. Dubai overtook Hong Kong as the third-busiest international airport in 2012.

Industry observers expect no additional landing slots will be offered at the Hong Kong airport from 2018 and airlines will be encouraged to optimise use of the limited space by consolidating routes and flying bigger planes.

Will Horton, a senior analyst at Capa, a Sydney-based aviation consultancy, said: "No amount of runway capacity at [the Hong Kong airport] or Singapore's Changi can compensate for what the Gulf carriers can offer in Europe by pooling traffic into a central hub and offering dozens of European destinations. But the third runway is, of course, still an urgent project and can ensure [Hong Kong] is a hub for Asia."

Hong Kong functions differently as a hub from Dubai, which is mainly a transit centre for air travel between East and West, as well as Europe and Africa. Two-thirds of the passengers at the Hong Kong airport, by contrast, are destined for or originate from the city. A majority of the remaining third are from the mainland.

"The hub function of Hong Kong is rather dictated by geographical factors," said a manager at Airport Authority Hong Kong. "We are well positioned to serve the mainland-Southeast Asia routes and the Australia-North Asia routes, although the latter is a very competitive market."

However, mainland carriers are aggressively expanding their international coverage at the same time as foreign players are adding flights to the mainland.

The gap between the number of international destinations served by Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and the Hong Kong airport has narrowed substantially within just a few years. Guangzhou serves 80 overseas destinations now, two-thirds of the number served by Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the rise of Middle Eastern carriers has diverted passengers away from Hong Kong as a transit point on flights between Australia and Europe - affectionately known as the kangaroo route, a term that Sydney-based Qantas trademarked for its Australia-Britain flights.

The number of kangaroo route passengers going via Dubai surged after Emirates and Qantas agreed to co-operate last year. Qantas dropped Hong Kong as a transit hub and started code-sharing with Emirates to channel passengers to Dubai.

Kangaroo route passengers making a hop in Dubai jumped 37.5 per cent year on year to 56,411 in October, while those going via Hong Kong slipped 17 per cent to 16,866, according to data from Amadeus, a global ticketing platform.

As Dubai's share of the kangaroo route leapt to 36.5 per cent in that month because of cheaper air fares and the shorter journey, Hong Kong's fell to 11 per cent.

While Cathay Pacific Airways is scheduled to add four more weekly flights to six Australian cities next month, Virgin Atlantic's decision to suspend its Hong Kong-Sydney route from May will reduce traffic from Down Under.


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Good. Why should we build a third runway for people not coming here or living here? Transit passengers bring no benefit.
This can only be good news.. hopefully it will decrease and help keep the air that little bit less disgusting.
Thank god the aviation industry isn't run by people like you!!!
One of the main reasons why Dubai is a popular transit hub is because it offers connected flights to secondary European or UK cities. For example, if someone wants to fly from Sydney to Glasgow or Birmingham, Emirates can offer direct flights from Dubai to these cities. If you travel via HK, then it only gets you as far as London, where you then have to fetch the coach or train to these cities.
One of the reasons may be that flights from Europe to Hong Kong consistently cost more than flights to mainland destinations, making them less attractive.
A quick look at a map of the world shows why Dubai is more suitable as a hub compared to HK.
It is often far less expensive to transit through Bangkok, Shanghai, Dubai, etc when travelling to Europe. If the major European carriers want to increase Direct HK - Europe traffic, they need only adjust the prices. However, there is one area where Dubai has an advantage. If for example, you are travelling to Manchester, you have to change flights somewhere anyhow - either London, somewhere on the continent, or in Dubai. The requirement (and time involved) to transfer means passengers to secondary cities are more likely to choose Dubai as their transfer point since Dubai is considerably less expensive.
You are right there. If you are travelling from a city like Manchester it is just as convenient to go via Paris or Dubai than to fly down to London and pick up a direct HK flight. In fact, travelling via Paris is actually better, as transiting CDG take less time and it is not as awful as Heathrow. And it is much, much cheaper - Cathay and BA charge a premium for direct flights from London to HK that offers no benefit to travellers from other cities.


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