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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 9:23am
NewsHong Kong

Aviation officials say third runway only option to handle extra traffic

Civil Aviation Department makes case for expansion to handle expected increase in flights

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:21pm

A third runway at Hong Kong's airport is the only way to handle rising air traffic in the long term, aviation authorities said yesterday, as they sought to fend off criticism the existing runways are not fully utilised.

The Civil Aviation Department reiterated its defence of the long-running proposal in response to criticism in recent newspaper columns.

Backing the department's position are figures released by global data tracker FlightStats this week showing that only 54.6 per cent of flights left Chek Lap Kok airport on time last month, down from 63.7 per cent in June and 76.8 per cent in January.

The department said it had improved navigation systems and carried out other measures over the years to boost the capacity of the two runways. In 1999, Chek Lap Kok could handle 40 flights an hour. The capacity had risen to 50 in 2004, and to 64 now.

"At present, we are always having to handle 64 [movements per hour]," assistant director general of civil aviation Manuel Sum Siu-wah said, implying that the two runways had reached full utilisation.

The capacity is expected to rise to 68 flights per hour in 2015. Sum said the department could further improve its work to cope with more than 68 movements an hour - but only for several hours a day.

"We cannot operate like that in the long run," he said, stressing the need for a third runway.

The department also said it had been striving to improve air-traffic management in the Pearl River Delta by holding regular meetings with its mainland and Macau counterparts.

The idea of a third runway was first floated by the Airport Authority in 2006. The project, to cost about HK$130 billion, would boost flight handling capacity to 102 per hour, the authority said.

It is conducting an environmental assessment of the project.

Sum hit back yesterday at arguments in newspaper columns that London's Heathrow Airport also had two runways but could handle more than 80 movements in an hour.

The comparison was incorrect, he said, mainly because Chek Lap Kok was surrounded by high mountains, such as the 957-metre Tai Mo Shan, creating challenges for planes.

The critics also say planes flying from Hong Kong to the mainland must cruise at a minimum of 15,700 feet. It means they must ascend suddenly, possibly creating air traffic problems, they say.

Chief electronics engineer Richard Wu said this "wall in the sky" was not a problem because it was far away from the airport.

To let planes fly shorter routes, the department reached a deal with mainland authorities in 2005 to lower the limit to 12,800 feet between 11pm and 7am.

Wu said the department had been looking for ways to enhance air traffic management with its mainland counterparts.

For example, the department uses feet in navigation while its mainland counterparts use metres - so an air traffic controller spends time converting the height from metres into feet. Last year 1.45 per cent of flights were delayed due to this issue.


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This article is now closed to comments

maybe our CAD missed / ignored these facts?
Overlooking complexity of airspace
Due to the geographic location of Chek Lap Kok airport, the justification for the third runway is a complex exercise.Writer's assertion that the key element to efficiency is air-traffic control comes from a common lack of understanding ("ATC controllers key element" Jul 27). A comparison w/ Heathrow overlooks the complexity of airspace, impact of terrain, lack of centralised flow control, single departure tracks, inability to turn traffic operating from the southern runway & the impact of weather through our two EXTREMELY NARROW ARRIVAL CORRIDORS.
New York is similar in complexity to HKG w/ close proximity of busy airports. However by being controlled & regulated by a single authority the entire airspace model & operations are designed to optimise & integrate aircraft movements.
5 or more competing national interests & 4 nearby airfields govern our operations. A1, the major air route running along the coast of China, is CONSIDERED THE BUSIEST ON THE PLANET. It is a two-way route unlike any busy motorway that separates traffic. The complexity faced on a daily basis by our controllers managing departing & arriving traffic into & crossing this route needs to be factored into the overall performance of Chek Lap Kok.
M O'Neill, Pres HK Air Traffic Control Assn
We should eliminate the fault of british legacy - feet !
What we need most is not a third runway. We need a complete overhaul of CAD.
China flight delays
Hong Kong now has more narrow bodied flights than before carrying max 190 pax short haul versus wide bodied jets with 300+
Dragonair should relocate to Shenzhen + get the fast rail between CLK + Shenzhen completed
Flights depart China late so arrive here late yet Beijing is building a new airport with 7 runways Guangzhou is building more runways , Shenzhen likewise, Chinese PLA controls 80% of China airspace w/ only 20% for civilian traffic
You can only get a specific quantity down congested ATC A1 arrival & departure tubes
Having a 3rd runway does not improve A1's capabilities
Negotiations for a PRD-wide New York type command & control area 'being discussed ad nauseum' goes nowhere amongst competing airports, different equipment complexities, feet versus meters altitude + separation
Having parallel simultaneous landings & takeoffs with wind shear possibilities at CLK does not auger well
HKG airport operates effectively only 18 hours per day - therein lies the further problem
It seems that the CAD had advance knowledge that the maximum capacity of an airport at Chek Lap Kok would have been 68 flight movements per hour instead of the standard 80 per hour of a two runway airport. Why then was the Chek Lap Kok site chosen? Isn't it kind of like shooting yourself in the foot before the race?

That said, it sounds quite dubious when there has been no public explanation with detailed, specific reasons/scenarios for the capacity limitation of 68 movements per hour. The term "terrain features" by itself is just a weasel word without sufficient elaboration.
John Adams
What is the flight movement of other similar airports ( e.g Heathrow) ?
And by the way : what is the CAD doing about the under staffing of air- traffic controllers which was a point of contention regarding an airport incident several months ago ? It seems to me that employing an extra dozen ( two dozen, three dozen !) air traffic controllers would cost a lot less than HK$130 billion
We had a typhoon last month which could account for all of the decline in flight punctuality.
John Adams
HK$130 Billion ?!!
OK ..... So let the airlines and passengers pay for it 100%
The general tax-paying public, a large % of whom never fly, should NOT pay
PS : I fly almost every week and I accept that I should pay my share in terms of airfare re HKIA landing charges . Applies to CX/ KA /ALL budget airlines alike
PPS : What did HKIA originally cost in total for 2 x runways, including terminals and the Airport Express? Can anyone give me that figure . From recollection it was something like HK$ 70 -80 billion.
Then add normal inflation and compare that with the cost of a 50% increase in runways ( without extra terminals and extra Airport Express line)
Does that HK$130 billion number stand up to scrutiny ?
CAD are allowing in small, old, noisy and inefficient aircraft which are now banned at major airports in other jurisdictions. The jet engines on these aircraft barely meet noise standards set during the 1970s.This unnecessary infliction of noise and air pollution on Hong Kong's residents is to boost the Airport Authority's aviation figures to justify their empire building schemes.
We also don't need private aviation with selfish tycoons taking up landing slots which should be reserved for large aircraft carrying the public. When the high speed rail project comes on line all passenger flights from Hong Kong to the mainland's airports within a 1000 km radius should be banned for environmental reasons.
My sentiments exactly when I read the technical report. For that kind of money, they might as well build a whole new airport!
A single runway has a theoretical maximum capacity of 44 flight movements per hour. In practice, 40 is a more achievable target. As long as there is sufficient spacing between runways, additional runways would multiply this number.

For Heathrow, because there is sufficient spacing between the runways, the flight movement capacity is 80 per hour.


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