Aviation industry presses Hong Kong government to open heliport at former Kai Tak airport site
Administration to study demand for cross-border and domestic services to assess viability of helicopter flights to and from major Pearl River Delta cities
Aviation may return to Kai Tak – Hong Kong’s former international airport before it was moved to Chek Lap Kok off Lantau in 1998.
The government will study the issue as the aviation industry draws up a case to operate a heliport at the tip of the old runway next to the Cruise Terminal, the Post has learned.
Following the government’s budget boost for helicopter flights, the Transport and Housing Bureau will start a “comprehensive review” as soon as April on demand for cross-border and domestic services to assess the viability of helicopter flights to and from major Pearl River Delta cities.
The industry, which includes helicopters and business jets, has proposed to the government that the general aviation sector could manage Kai Tak heliport as a non-profit venture at no cost to the taxpayer.
Heliport flights could act as connecting flights to and from business jets waiting at airports across the Pearl River Delta.
“If we operate it, we could effectively subsidise the cost of it. We will facilitate everybody else at a commercially operated heliport. That is what happens at Battersea heliport in London,” explained HeliGroup director Gavin Neale, who added that re-opening Kai Tak for commercial flights would be a symbolic move.
The site for Kai Tak heliport is currently an 80,000 sq ft fenced-off barren area. The land has been zoned as a heliport for years. It has already passed an environmental impact assessment.
The proximity of the Cruise Terminal’s customs, immigration and quarantine facilities make it ready to handle cross-boundary flights.
The former Kai Tak airport site is being slowly transformed into a vast commercial, residential and civic development district, which includes a second central business district for corporations and some government departments.
The bureau and the Civil Aviation Department, citing the State Council’s policy guidance last year to open up low-altitude airspace, said in a joint statement: “This new policy direction provides a good opportunity for us to reconsider the potential of helicopter services in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region as a whole.”
The review will also assess what role and demand there are for helicopter flights as part of a combined journey – namely landing on a business jet in the mainland and making a final helicopter journey to Hong Kong.
Business jet operators have faced numerous challenges flying in and out of Hong Kong International Airport because of a scarcity of take-off and landing slots, forcing operators to think creatively about their business.
Combining helicopter shuttle flights to transport passengers to and from business jets landing in the Pearl River Delta could free up more commercial flights out of Hong Kong’s airport, Neale said. He estimated up to 35 take-off and landing slots used by such jets could be released back to passenger and cargo operators.
Albert Yau, the general manager of Zhuhai airport, which is 55 per cent owned by Hong Kong’s Airport Authority, questioned whether the existing helicopter facilities at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan were enough to support cross-border flights.
He said a debate should start on opening the Kai Tak heliport.
Zhuhai airport is already benefiting from special facilities to shuttle business jet passengers onto Hong Kong-bound helicopter flights, and views itself as a relief airport for general aviation in Hong Kong.