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Hong Kong's third runway proposal

Approval of third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport does not answer questions about airspace

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2015, 1:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 10:55am

Hongkongers were no closer to understanding how regional airspace issues would be solved, after approval was granted yesterday for the construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport that would spell busier skies above the city.

The government would say only that the "problems will no longer exist" in five years, as it remained tight-lipped about whether Hong Kong could eventually circumvent a "sky wall" imposed by the mainland between the city and the national airspace.

The sky wall means outbound planes must fly circles to reach at least 4,800 metres, at which they can then enter mainland airspace. This obstacle will still exist with a third runway.

With the extra airstrip, the city can increase its current 68 flights per hour to 102, according to Airport Authorityforecasts, but critics say the target can be met only if the mainland concedes some of its airspace to Hong Kong.

A "directional plan" forged in 2007 was already in place, a government spokesman said ahead of the news that the Executive Council had given the go-ahead to build the third runway, now budgeted at HK$141.5 billion.

The plan set "short and medium objectives" for Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen to meet by 2020, he said. The three jurisdictions belong to a working group formed in 2004 to resolve issues of airspace amid growing traffic in the Pearl River Delta region.

The spokesman did not elaborate on what the talks had produced, only stressing that the three parties would work to achieve unified standards, procedures and arrangements to share airspace. "The problems everyone is concerned about will no longer exist in 2020," he said.

He tried to allay concerns about the sky wall, saying that global aviation regulations required all aircraft to enter another jurisdiction's airspace at 4,800 metres anyway. He also downplayed the idea of boosting the two current runways' capacity by shaving the peaks off several hills, saying that this was not "environmentally viable".

Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, of the People's Aviation Watch concern group, said this was "deliberately misleading" as a 1992 master plan only stated two mountains, not in country parks, needed to be shaved.

Wu Chi-wai, transport policy spokesman for the Democratic Party, questioned the transparency of airspace management. He urged the government to explain why the dual-runway system failed to achieve its design capacity of 88 flights per hour.