Shipping statistics sound a warning on airport runway three

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 2:11am

Now we have it - figures showing that our container port (container ports one to nine) did 14.6 million teus ("20-foot equivalent units") in the first 10 months of 2012 ("HK set to lose No 3 port rank to Shenzhen", November 26).

The full-year estimate is probably some 17.6 million teus.

These volumes are massively below those forecast in the Study on Hong Kong Port - Master Plan 2020 carried out in 2004, in which it was predicted that we needed a 10th terminal by 2015.

This study predicted the nine existing terminals would be handling 19.8 million teus by 2010 with demand rising to 24.1 million teus by 2015. The 2012 likely figures are 11 per cent below those predicted for 2010, and growth in 2012 was a beggarly 0.8 per cent.

It is clear that our port is a sunset industry and we will be lucky to keep container terminals one to nine in business, let alone contemplate container terminal 10.

The implications of this outcome are hugely significant for the third runway proposals at Chek Lap Kok airport.

Traffic projections for the airport mirror those done for the port - a simplistic projection of past performance without any due diligence to the realities of Hong Kong in its regional setting, notably in relation to mainland China.

Hong Kong is a city of but seven million.

China has shown with container traffic that its needs are best met through its own port facilities.

It has hugely out-built our once pre-eminent port and siphoned off much of the cargo which was hitherto trans-shipped through Hong Kong.

The traffic projections for our airport carried out by the Airport Authority assume that cargo volumes and transit passengers will continue to increase.

However, the factories are moving out of the Pearl River Delta, and cargo volumes are in decline.

The transit passengers who underpin air traffic growth projections are hardly likely to continue to use Hong Kong once China signs more direct air service agreements with final-destination countries.

It is high time our government undertook a due diligence study on the Airport Authority's projections.

Most fortuitously, saner heads prevailed with the port, and container terminal 10 never got past the drawing board. We can only hope similar sanity prevails on the airport proposals.

Clive Noffke, Lantau