Hong Kong crackdown on business jets could force operators to use mainland airports

Some industry insiders warn that inflexibilities in the system may force operators to base their jets overseas, including in mainland China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 8:53am

Aviation authorities have moved to crack down on business jets misusing take-off and landing slots by tightening access for operators flying in and out of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).

But some industry insiders warn that inflexibilities in the system may force operators to fly more to other airports, including in mainland China.

Private jet booking system for Hong Kong airport leads to slots going to waste

In the latest effort to stop slots going unused or being hoarded or traded illegally, aircraft must have a runway slot booked in combination with a parking space and airport ground handling. If either one is not confirmed, a flight booking will be rejected, potentially wasting an unused slot.

Stiffer regulations were implemented after Transport and Housing Secretary Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung pledged to lawmakers over the summer to tackle the abuse of slots while supporting the business aviation industry, which he acknowledged had a “positive” impact on the city.

The move by the authorities is aimed at highlighting “genuine demand” for business jet flights, according to the Civil Aviation Department. But it has split the industry, with some raising concern that the misuse and abuse of runway slot rules were having a real impact on business.

“The present restrictive slot system at HKIA unfortunately detracts from the principle of business aviation ‘to be able to plan your trip at short notice and provide a flexibility of timing in your schedule once confirmed’,” Asian Business Aviation Association chairman Charlie Mularski said.

The changes, which came into effect late last month, are the fruit of months of negotiations between the government and the industry led by the association.

The authorities will monitor the system for violations which could lead to operators losing the right to book flights to and from Hong Kong.

On the bright side, operators can now book flights up to 14 days in advance – double the previous time – to enhance flexibility, but if cancellations are made less than 72 hours before departure, it counts as a violation. Other breaches include flights operating without a runway slot and flying more than two hours after the scheduled time.

Operators acknowledge that runway slots are potentially being wasted by “flying empty” to Hong Kong to pick up clients, while more Hong Kong-based aircraft are parked in the Philippines, Vietnam or at mainland airports.

Official figures show the number of private jet movements has fallen by 13 per cent in the year to August, compared with the same period last year. They are down from an average 24 jets a day to 21.

Earlier this year, the Post revealed that unscrupulous players in the private jet industry were hacking the booking system and selling take-off and landing slots for profit.

An industry insider, who was not authorised to comment publically, said there would be more diversions to the mainland.

“If the authorities don’t become flexible, Hong Kong will be on its knees to [mainland] China within five to 10 years,” the insider said. “Shenzhen airport is loving this. They’re gaining so much business because of Hong Kong’s mismanagement.”

The source warned that business jet management companies were “struggling.”

The Civil Aviation Department and the Airport Authority, which runs HKIA, said in a joint statement they were “monitoring and assessing” the “efficiency and effectiveness” to meet demand from all aircraft operators and ensure runway slots were fully used.

Mularski acknowledged it was “not a perfect system” but said the industry was committed to tweaking it after reviewing the changes over a longer period of time.