• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:16pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong airport must meet global demand or risk falling behind

Julia Yan says the arguments put up by opponents of third runway do not stand up to scrutiny

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 4:03am

To meet future air traffic demand, the Airport Authority is proposing to expand Hong Kong International Airport by building a third runway. The environmental impact assessment report on the project is now available for public inspection.

There have been questions about whether Hong Kong needs a third runway. Historically, air traffic growth has been closely associated with economic development. As Hong Kong is an open economy, this connection is even stronger. If a third runway is not built, its position as an international aviation hub, as well as its overall competitiveness, will be severely undermined.

Those who believe Hong Kong needs only two runways argue that London Heathrow Airport's two-runway operations allow it to "maximise the value of the runways" without affecting its competitiveness. However, this observation is not based on fact. The reality is that the number of destinations Heathrow serves has dropped 12 per cent over the past decade, while two of Europe's other major aviation hubs, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, have increased their destinations. This has caused the UK an estimated loss of £14 billion (HK$186 billion) a year in terms of value of trade. Do we want Hong Kong to follow in London's footsteps and give away our hard-earned aviation hub status?

Some also argue that the airport's current two runways should be able to accommodate 87 million passengers annually, a projection made in 1992. This argument ignores the fact that prudent planning means responding to market changes in a timely manner.

Aviation is a global industry that has evolved considerably over the past 20 years. We have seen advances and changes in aircraft technology and type, development of air networks, and leisure and business travel trends. If we planned our airport facilities and systems based on assumptions made some 20 years ago, then we would have lagged significantly behind market demand. To incorporate current developments into our planning, the Airport Authority updates the airport's 20-year master plan every five years.

Finally, some have suggested turning Hong Kong airport into a boutique airport so that it will not need further expansion for the next few decades. However, this would defeat the airport's mission to provide all travellers with an extensive air network - including, most importantly, the people of Hong Kong. Air transport services should not be biased towards a minority of the population who can afford "boutique" services.

Since the airport began its two-runway operations, air traffic volumes have been hitting new records. In terms of passenger throughput and volume of cargo carried per aircraft, the airport is the world's most efficient airport. This achievement is the result of the government's resolute decision to expand by building a new airport at Chek Lap Kok.

The latest predictions by international air traffic expert IATA Consulting indicate that by 2030, Hong Kong airport's passenger throughput will reach almost 100 million and its cargo volume will grow to almost 9 million tonnes.

Imagine if Hong Kong were still using the single-runway Kai Tak airport. Would the people of Hong Kong be able to travel all over the world for their holidays, choosing from over 180 destinations served by more than 100 airlines? Would business travellers be able to enjoy the convenience of frequent air services and select the flight most suited to their schedule?

The bottleneck of an airport's capacity lies in its runway capacity, not in ground facilities such as terminal buildings. Today, Hong Kong airport handles an average of 1,050 flights a day, very close to the two runways' practical maximum capacity of 1,200 aircraft movements.

If Hong Kong airport does not build a third runway, it will not be able to increase its daily flight movements to meet air traffic demand. The result will be that its aviation network will shrink, with fewer direct-flight destinations and frequencies. There will also be less room for new airlines (such as low-cost carriers) to operate in Hong Kong.

As a result of the shortfall in supply, airfares will go up and service standards will inevitably decline. Both the people of Hong Kong and travellers from around the world will suffer. In the long term, Hong Kong's advantage as an international aviation hub will be weakened, and our economy and employment market will be undermined.

In addition to the damage caused to our aviation and tourism industries, the competitiveness of Hong Kong as a centre of financial services, trade and logistics will fall behind neighbouring cities.

Hong Kong International Airport owes its successes to the dedication and hard work of the people of Hong Kong. Likewise, we should nurture and treasure this valuable asset by making the right decision, one that will secure the sustainable development of Hong Kong.

Julia Yan is general manager of strategic planning and development at the Airport Authority


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@"The bottleneck of an airport's capacity lies in its runway capacity".
This statement is hogwash. The main bottle neck is the capacity of the air traffic control corridors leading in and out of Hong Kong, already choked because of the AA.'s stupidity in allowing CLK to be used by small and inefficient aircraft.
The aviation "hub" you seek to protect, will inevitably move north to Mainland cities because it makes no sense to fly people and cargo several hundred kms south to Hong Kong, tranship them and then fly them back north again.
Finally ,please stop the AA from propagating the lie that Hong Kong's airport and aviation needs to keep growing to create jobs for Hong Kong people . We already have a labour shortage in Hong Kong. To operate, airports need thousands of low grade of skills jobs, which do nothing to improve the livelihoods of Hong Kong's lower paid. Bigger aviation only enriches the elite and fattens the pocket of shareholders of Hong Kong's major carrier, the British-controlled airline Cathay Pacific.
Ms. Yan just wants to keep her job by spouting nonsense. "Falling behind...."; behind what? Is there a contest between airports in the amount of wasteful spending they can generate?
what a load of twaddle
the 'world' airport operates only between 0700-0100 each day with the odd cargo flight arrival during the empty period
she has not mentioned the new delicacy for the airport hotel menus, dolphin sushi
where is the independent SROI study, the reason that Heathrow runway addition was rejected ?
where is the fast train tunnel between Chep Lap Kok and Shenzhen airport ?
But the biggest problem with all of this is the absence of any reasonable view of what constitutes sustainable development, or even just the mention of a cost-benefit balance.

Sure, a bigger airport with more flights, and more runways, and more passengers brings in more money than a smaller airport, all other things being equal. Duh.

But there is a cost to it, isn't there Ms Yan? For starters, there is the HKD 138 billion (and then some I am sure) price tag of building the new runway. Oddly, while we are assured that this is money well spent, the private sector is unwilling to provide a penny for it. Strange... if the third runway is such a commercial no-brainer, why can't it be build privately and exploited as such? Why must all the costs and risks be borne by the taxpayer (again)?

And then there are environmental costs, and no, I am not just referring to the bloody dolphins. There is noise. There is pollution. There is opportunity costs of allocating resources (land, money, labour, time, talent etc) to being 'an aviation hub.'

And why? Again: I am all for having a good, efficient airport. But under your own 2030 (yes, updated) Master Plan, the Two Runway System could handle up to 420,000 flight moments and 74 million passengers. That is a lot.

You still do not answer the fundamental question: why would a city of 7 million people want to allocate enormous resources to be able to handle more than 74 million passengers at its airport in a year?
Enormous rhetorical fallacies in this article. To name a few.

[If Hong Kong airport does not build a third runway, it will not be able to increase its daily flight movements to meet air traffic demand. The result will be that its aviation network will shrink, with fewer direct-flight destinations and frequencies.]

How is that? I can see that if you limit something's growth, that it will not, well, grow further. How does it suddenly shrink though? File under: fear mongering.

[In the long term, Hong Kong's advantage as an international aviation hub will be weakened, and our economy and employment market will be undermined.]

I am missing the connection. What exactly is being an aviation hub good for? I understand we need a good airport. An efficient airport. With lots of destinations and good frequency of flights. I don't understand why we need an airport that is an aviation hub for that. What is the benefit of those transfer passengers hopping from one spoke to the next at our airport? You named Paris - definitely not an aviation hub, and yet a city that has a perfectly good airport with plenty of connections to pretty much everywhere. File under: false causation.

[As a result of the shortfall in supply, airfares will go up and service standards will inevitably decline. Both the people of Hong Kong and travellers from around the world will suffer. ]

No. Competition in a market defines such things, not its size. File under: grotesque nonsense.
There used to be articles in this newspaper (Jake???) that said something along the lines that it is the airlines companies who are creating this perceived shortage by using smaller planes than was intended. The original plan that was given funding used wide body aircraft to calculate the number of passengers per day. But the airlines have switched to smaller planes that carry less passengers, so the allocated slots now seem inadequate but the overall passenger count is still less than was originally planned for.
Make the airlines pay for the runway, and if the original plan was to use larger planes with higher numbers of passengers then why have they been allowed to now use smaller planes?
HKG will probably possess at least 60 million passngers this year (2014). Also, you have coveniently ignored my reference to FRA, MUC and AMS. Go and find out the percentage of transfer passengers at these global gateways. Oh, what about DXB? The academic books do offer strong, unbiased arguments. Basically, all you want is a local airport providing A380 shuttle services to the top 30 destinations. No airports will survive in such operation mode. So, why don´t some respectable external organizations or think-tanks commission some independent respectable studies, instead all we have got is just some bloody free willy propaganda???
Miss Yan needs to engage in more verifiable data and less literary theatrics.
Previous reports suggest that the 3rd runway will take HK capacity from 70 to 90 million (approx),
and neither of these numbers could reasonably be described as "boutique"
From a purely numerical perspective - exactly what is global demand for HK airport.
Miss Yan really needs to be totally honest, by making the demand evaluation for the entire lower PRD, and be sure to include Guangzhou's planned 2nd airport that is to be built in Nansha, on the opposite side of the Pearl River from Shenzhen's airport.
What is so strange that a hometown airline has about 40 some percent of slots at its home airport? This "British-controlled" airline you are out to attack has a predominant wide-body fleet. HKG is NOT DXB, where all things aviation-related are probably owned by the person. I do not see that it is so scandalous that the Government looks after a genuine global, home-grown industrial champion like CX from time to time. As a private enterprise, how is CX going to invest billions of USDs annually in its employees, modern fleet, passenger products and spend on exceptional items like the new cargo terminal without a deep pocket?
Is that sufficient when an executive jet is A380? Efficiency is not judged only by the numbers of A380s and B747s flying serving the airport! The B757-200 has a maximum capacity of 239 passengers. Why don´t you force airlines to fly planes into HKG with jets in maximum passenger capacity?
Even the airport check-in agents take home with nice pay checks. The so-called labor shortage in HK is actually people do not want to slave away in restaurants, which I do no blame them for at all. Don´t you see how overstaffed restaurants and shops are in HK?
HKG aims to be the flagship airport of the PRD, which is logical, because most global gateways possess such large catchment areas. CDG, FRA, AMS, ZRH and CPH all have sprawling long-distance rail, feeder flight, trucking and highway networks. Even LHR is seriously looking into having a long-distance rail station.
HKG is on the rise as it becomes a key player on the North America - ASEAN & v.v. traffic and a larger player on the Kangaroo Route as no jets will be able to fly these routes nonstop in economically viable loads in the decades to come. In global aviation, there are North America, ASEAN, Australia and Europe for HKG as well, and commerical aviation is one industry which Hong Kong can thrive without any excessive reliance on the mainland.
Many global gateways actually start receiving intercontinental flight arrivals as early as 0500 and handle a large amount of cargo flights in the middle of the night. The peak hours for passenger flights at DXB are actually early morning hours.
At the end of the day, it is the ignorance, prejudice and hatred of the rest of you to come up with fallacy, hogwash, whatever.



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