International pilots back plan for third runway at Hong Kong Airport
International federation says members complain of delays because of growing air traffic, and that current capacity will not be sufficient in future
Phila Siu and Tony Cheung
A group representing pilots around the world is backing plans for a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport.
The International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations, which has 100,000 members, said the city would eventually need a third runway because of increasing air traffic.
Its director of operations, Gideon Ewers, said from Britain: "My colleagues say they often face 30-minute delays as air traffic in Hong Kong grows."
The Airport Authority estimates the two-runway system will reach its maximum capacity of 420,000 flight movements annually between 2019 and 2022.
A three-runway system would be able to accommodate 620,000 flight movements a year.
One problem that increases airport congestion is that planes flying from Hong Kong into the mainland have to fly at a minimum of 15,700 feet.
It means planes flying to the mainland must suddenly ascend, creating air traffic problems.
According to Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department, this requirement is in place to ensure a safe separation of aircraft flying into and out of Shenzhen airport.
But Ewers said: "That really is a problem. The mainland military owns the airspace, and they decide how much to allow."
He said that while the number of flight movements might increase in the short term if the mainland loosened its airspace requirement, Hong Kong's two runways would still reach their maximum capacity eventually.
Ewers said this was because of Hong Kong's strategic location in southern China, which he compared to London's location at the heart of Europe.
"The UK is a financial hub because of a good airport. Companies choose places to do business in that have a close proximity to other airports," he said.
A third runway would cost an estimated HK$130 billion to build, although the projected economic benefits to the city have been put at HK$900 billion.
But the project has run into opposition from "green" groups. An environmental assessment is expected to be completed in about two years.
Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, of Friends of the Earth, said building a third runway would inevitably worsen the environment in the area and the government should review whether it was really necessary.
"With a possible recession in the global economy, Hong Kong's air traffic could drop, so will the demand for a third runway be met? Has the Airport Authority overestimated flight movements?" Chau asked.
"And with the expansion of airports in neighbouring cities like Shenzhen, where should the leading aviation hub in the Pearl River Delta be?"
Chau said city officials should discuss these questions with the central government, along with the airspace requirement issue.
She added: "The people must be given choices and be informed about the costs of the project, such as its impact on their lives and on traffic in the area."