Shanghai, Asian weekend destinations set for greatest cuts as new air traffic control system implemented at Hong Kong airport

A total of 2,520 flights will be cut for a month from October 30 to ensure smooth phasing in of costly and delayed system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 2:05am

Flights to mainland China’s financial centre and popular weekend destinations face the brunt of cuts as thousands of flights are halted to upgrade Hong Kong’s air traffic control system.

The suspension of 2,520 flights is the cost of switching from out-of-date and unreliable technology to an over-budget and much delayed new system.

The Civil Aviation Department ordered airlines to cut flying schedules from October 30 until November 26, as first revealed by the Post in May, to help controllers transition to new technology.

Mainland destinations Shanghai, Tianjin, Sanya, Ningbo and Hangzhou will see flights scaled back, as will regional destinations Bangkok, Taipei, Singapore, Osaka, Seoul, Tokyo and Bali.

Long-haul routes affected include Auckland, Sydney, Vancouver, New York, Dubai and Los Angeles.

While passenger flights are being cut by an average 8 per cent a day, routes such as Shanghai and Bangkok face bigger cuts – 17 per cent and 10 per cent respectively on a daily seat basis.

The Post analysed the reduction in schedules, using data from ExpertFlyer.com. It selected a Sunday, November 6, during the affected period, and the same day one month later – December 4 – to compare planned flights. The results showed a reduction in flights of around 8 per cent, with destinations popular with Hongkongers heavily affected.

Even though the aviation regulator says the cuts are being implemented during an off-peak period, 5.6 million people passed through the airport last November, making it the eighth busiest travel period last year.

With the supply of seats being cut, it is feared demand will push up airfares. This would come on top of a new airport construction fee and a fuel surcharge being introduced by Hong Kong carriers Cathay Pacific and Dragonair.

During the flight reduction period, some operators are cancelling services outright, including United Airlines’ service to Ho Chi Minh City.

However, not everyone will be cutting back. Hong Kong Airlines will launch a new service to Auckland and budget carrier HK Express will take off for Nha Trang in Vietnam.

Acting assistant director general of civil aviation Cheung Sau-tak said: “We fully recognise the impact to the trade and the public arising from the slot adjustment, even though it is a short-term arrangement ... The department highly appreciates the cooperation and support from the airlines and the industry in implementing this temporary arrangement and appeals for public understanding.”

The Civil Aviation Department stressed the upgrade would bring long-term benefits on top of the planned third-runway system.