Hongkong Post handles record 103 million mail items

Overwhelming amount of airmail sent and received this year, much of it from e-traders, help keep the city's postal services thriving

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 4:55am

Hongkong Post handled a record number of letters and parcels this year, much of it airmail from e-traders, despite long-held fears that the internet would spell the death of global postal services.

This, coupled with a seasonal surge in mail before Christmas, contributed to a 12.5 per cent increase in the items processed by the city's post offices.

Between April and October, more than 103 million items were sent by mail, up from 91.7 million in the same period last year.

"It seems the increase is mainly bulk airmail and registered mail, likely from e-traders," a spokeswoman said.

The increase forced the post office to warn its customers that their presents and cards might arrive late because of insufficient air-cargo space, although the spokeswoman said the move was simply to notify people of possible delays.

"During the peak period starting in September, we have been able to meet the standards pledged for outward airmail traffic," she said.

She added that it was not certain if more foreign workers from financially troubled euro-zone countries coming to work in the city and sending things back home had contributed to the airmail increase.

Every day, Hongkong Post processes about 3 million items, many of them passing through the 2,400 square metre sorting office at the General Post Office in Central which operates round-the-clock. Some go through another mail processing centre in Hung Hom, which handles all the mail from Kowloon and the New Territories.

Once delivered to the processing centre, the letters are fed into a large machine, where a rotating drum with special lights separates local and airmail by ultraviolent bars on the stamps.

Each letter gets stamped with a postmark in the machine, which is capable of processing 15,000 letters per hour. Larger items and those with handwritten, Chinese addresses are manually stamped.

All airmail items are sent to Hong Kong International Airport for further processing. Local mail is sorted by three-letter codes before being dispatched.

Letters with no stamps, such as bulk mail in pre-bought envelopes, are fed through another machine that automatically reads addresses. The machine can stamp 34,000 letters an hour.

Lendi Yeung, manager of the mail processing centre in Central, said damaged items - often due to poor packaging by the sender - would be repaired, if possible, by a special "reconstitution" team.

For Paul Chiu, 56, the gentle whirr of machines and stamping of letters has been his working life for the past 35 years.

"Every day is different and I like learning new things because we are often updating our processes," he said.