Hong Kong airport sees growth despite runway congestion ahead

While plans to install a new air traffic control system will cause a fall in total flights coming through the airport, management remains confident in growth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 12:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 12:28am

Hong Kong International Airport is on track to fly 70 million passengers around the world, despite shaky tourism numbers and a weaker economic environment.

The Airport Authority has forecast growth this year between 4-5 per cent after having carried 41.5 million travellers in and out of Hong Kong so far, a 5.2 per cent jump on the same time last year.

But some headwinds are yet to hit, with a month-long cut of flights to accommodate a new air traffic control system set to take effect October 30 to November 26. The cut is expected to translate into lower passenger numbers and reduce earnings for the airport with total flight schedules estimated to fall by seven per cent.

Two weeks ago, Hong Kong recorded better-than-expected second quarter growth numbers however, the first quarter failed to hit estimates and mainland tourism numbers rebounded for the first time in 13 months.

Meanwhile, the airport has firmed up proposals to boost the number of flights by opening up both runways for longer periods while the long-term expansion of the third runway continues.

Mitigation measures are being studied to study whether the runways can open at least 15 minutes earlier, following nightly maintenance. The extra 15-minute window could translate into eight extra flights per day, or up to 3,000 more per year.

Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of the Airport Authority, told local radio yesterday morning the airport was assessing possibilities for the runways.

“We’re exploring proposals and see how we can utilise the two runways in the future beyond their designed capacity. This will be hugely beneficial as the third runway was being constructed.”

The existing two runways will be too full to handle extra flights by next year, Lam added.

Former Civil Aviation Department chief from 1998-2004, Albert Lam Kwong-yu, warned that the community had very strong views about environmental noise.

He warned the noise pollution ordinance, where renovations must stop between 11pm and 7am the next day, could eventually limit the general creation of noise.

“The government also has a responsibility to limit that. People living under the flight path or near the airport are very concerned about the exposure of noise – which I fully appreciate,” he added.

The first tranche of financing for the expansion of Hong Kong International Airport will be launched next year, the airport chief has said.

Half of the total financing for the third runway expansion, some HK$69 billion of HK$141.5 billion, will be sourced through bank loans and retail bonds.

“Our plan is mainly materialised through (the issue of) retail bonds. Our estimate is that over half of the funding arrangements rely on retail bonds,” he said.

“Since the project has only just begun construction, I don’t think we need to secure a large amount of money. But we plan to roll out the first batch of retail bonds by the middle of next year.”

The Airport Authority will appoint a financial consultant by the end of the year to formulate concrete funding plans.

Lam refused to comment on the outcome of the judicial review, which challenges an environmental permit issued by the Environmental Protection Department, but stressed the Airport Authority had conducted the required risk assessments and construction would continue as scheduled regardless of the outcome, with completion set for 2024.