• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:58pm
NewsHong Kong

Airport bosses accused of manipulating flight figures to justify third runway

Groups fighting plans for third runway say bosses pushing up usage rates of existing two by letting 'half-empty planes' serve minor routes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 5:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 12:01pm

Airport chiefs are ignoring inefficiencies in the use of its two runways as they seek to justify a third, concern groups say.

They questioned the need for the multibillion-dollar expansion of Chep Lap Kok after analysis of a million flights between 2010 and 2012 highlighted low operational efficiency of the existing runways.

They pointed to valuable landing and take-off slots being allocated to low-capacity, narrow-body aircraft, most destined for obscure third- and fourth-tier mainland cities.

Airport Development Concern Network spokesman Michael Mo questioned whether this was the most efficient use of the runways given that some small narrow-body jets were taking off only half full.

"There are currently no efficient monitoring mechanisms to ensure our runway landing slots are used efficiently," said Mo.

He said the Airport Authority was letting "empty flights" fly back and forth from the city so it could earn landing fees and push up the total number of flights.

According to the authority, adding another runway would boost the capacity of the airport by about 44 per cent by 2023.

It says the existing two runways are forecast to reach capacity as early as 2016.

But the group's analysis, based on Civil Aviation Department data, found the proportion of narrow-body aircraft rose from 37 per cent of total flights in 2010 to about 39 per cent in 2012, while wide-body aircraft flights fell from 63 per cent to 61 per cent.

Narrow-body aircraft flights accounted for 70 per cent of all flights to the mainland, with most headed for lower-tier cities.

A narrow-body, single-aisle aircraft carries 50 per cent fewer passengers than a wide-body, or dual-aisle, model.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, of the group Green Sense, which co-authored the report, said the airport was "at risk of becoming a small airport transit hub exclusively used by Chinese passengers".

He said: "The actual number of aircraft seats occupied is not high, but the authority gets to create an illusion that there are many flights moving in and out."

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of the Professional Commons, said the airport could turn into a "low efficiency, low value and high cost" operation. "There is no reason for our international airport to compete, and at such high cost, with Shenzhen and Guangzhou for domestic flights to third- and fourth-tier cities," he said.

"The economic benefits of expanding routes to these cities are low and positioning our airport as a hub for these routes will only cause the city a loss." He said the airport did not have to increase the total of flights, but urged airlines to change aircraft types.

David Newbery, of the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association, said switching to larger aircraft would not necessarily increased efficiency, as having to fly them half empty would be even worse financially and environmentally. He said most flights would have to be operating at 80 per cent capacity or risk running a loss, but many airlines kept unprofitable routes just to keep them open or because they were subsidised by governments.

Henry Chan, also of the pilots' association, said switching to larger aircraft also meant less frequency and less destination choice for passengers.

The fate of the third runway hinges on how the public takes the results of an environmental impact assessment. The public has until Saturday to inspect it.

In a statement, the authority said the only way to solve the capacity bottleneck was to expand the airport into a three-runway system to increase daily flight movements to meet air traffic demand.

The Civil Aviation Department said that its views were in line with that of the authority.

Both pointed out that the airport was the most efficient in the world, with 267 workload units per flight movement. One workload unit is equal to one passenger, or 100kg of cargo.


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This article is now closed to comments

Very funny. They sound as if half-empty flights don't contribute to connectivity nor use runway capacity.
The truth is, besides origin & destination (O&D) traffic to these 3rd-tier small cities, they're important in developing and strengthening HK's hub status with 5th freedom connecting traffic.
Whether those flights are profitable or not can't be affected by AAHK, as it's a commercial decision with break-even load factor (BELF) = cost per available seat kilometre (CASK)/yield (revenue per RPK).
It's quite outraging to suggest implicitly using widebody flights solves the lack of runway capacity. The low-cost carrier expansion at HK also has an impact which utilises narrowbody flights.
Tell the same thing to London Heathrow or New York JFK to cut flights to 2nd & 3rd-tier cities then.
For a 3rd runway that will cost billions of tax payers money to build and impact air quality then the Government and independent advisors really need to look at what type of traffic is using it.
If it really is small jets taking up the runway time and cutting these by 20% would mean Billions in savings for the people of HK then I am all for it.
If HK has a genuine need to expand the airport after all the analysis is done then I am all for it also.
But that cost - benefit analysis needs to be done. As airlines are looking at reducing their costs as much as possible but that should not be at the expense of the HK tax payer.
Shanghai and Beijing are key areas to reduce the use of narrow bodied aircraft and just fly more flights daily.
The scarier part about the new runway is the financial impact is more than just the cost of the runway but HK does not have enough construction workers already. This will put the trade at breaking point, salaries will rocket and Housing and other infra costs will increase accordingly.
And you are forgetting to mention private aviation flights. Executives and tycoons selfishly occupy needed landing slots and air traffic control corridors for their small personal heavily polluting aircraft carrying just a handful of passengers.
The AA states publicly that these aircraft are only permitted to land and take off at non-peak times when there are vacant slots. This is deceitful misinformation.
I have witnessed four large passenger aircraft ( including a large B787) lining up on the taxiways waiting for takeoff without moving for six minutes whilst they waited for the arrival of a small private jet to land and taxi off the runway. This was during the busy afternoon period.
Albert Lai assumes that the third or fourth tier cities will remain as third and fourth tier cities in 15 years. Such shortsightedness is abound within LegCo. China's growth will rely on the undeveloped cities, and industries will migrate towards them also to take advantage of cheaper land and labor costs. Foxconn is making that move, and all its OEM's have to follow.
When the loud uninitiated ringside spectators do not understand, they again scream "lies," What do they know about air traffic management and airport operations?
Many here selfishly choose to forget that they actually did nothing financially to contribute the development and operations of the airport. The operations of HKIA are not subsidized by the tax money and the HKIA has been paying massive dividends to the Government for years.
The uninitiated and ignorant think when HKIA exists like an XL Kai Tak, everything will be fine and dandy. Have they seen how the aviation industry has developing in the entire Asia Pacific in the last 20 years instead of obsessing over the construction progress of the nearby airports?
There is so much you can do. If you just buck the trend all the way, you will loose out at the end. Hong Kong already stacks the convention centers and air cargo terminals up instead of spreading them out. When we are at it, the air traffic growth will partly fail to materialize when you block the expansion of the downtown convention center because you will come up with the lame propoganda, saying the mainland should have it because the MICE industry only hires cleaners and cooks. The mainland is out to destroy HKG, so will the local phobia against the mainland.
John Adams
Indeed yes !
There was a report several months ago about the very large number of private aircraft that clutter up CLK 's air space ( and ground space) and occupy much-needed landing slots..
As a first step , banish all these private aircraft to Macau airport.
After all we will soon have a bridge there, and we need at least a few car journeys per day to justify the bridge. Those who can afford to own private aircraft can certainly afford gold-plated people-movers to drive them to Macau.
(Sorry if it takes you an extra half hour journey time )
I rebutted all the perpetually circulated nonsensical claims made by the loud uninitiated ringside spectators in the following article. Running an airport is completely different from running MTR or state-owned railways for that matter. In the latter case, they have complete planning and operational control over network, frequency, capacity (through equipments deployed, etc.), maintenance, facility, pricing and so forth.
The 5th freedom flights are not exclusively A380 flights.
There are TOO MANY uninfomred critics.
Re: Ant Lee
It cannot be further from the truth actually. So many people called in the radio stations, and wrote to the newspapers and magazines those days suggesting the following:
-Fill the Kowloon Bay in and build a second runway for Kai Tak.
-Expand Shek Kong airport
-Develop a Shek Kong and Kai Tak dual airport system
-Reclaim Sandy Bay and Sulphur Channel to connect Green Island with Hong Kong Island for the tarmac and the terminals, and build radiating runways out into the sea as the demand growths.
Back in those days, it was all about money, money and money. "What will happen to HK when the reserves are completely depleted?" What will happen to the poor people, the construction sector and inflation?
They are actually paying for their services. Sorry if it takes you an extra half hour journey time to Macau, though you barely pay any fees and taxes but you want to take a beach vacation.



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