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Hong Kong aviation

Space-starved Hong Kong airport squeezes in 7,000 extra flights a year

A net increase of 400,000 long-haul seats is forecast this year, as Cathay Pacific seeks to add new routes and other airlines look to expand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 11:21pm

Hong Kong’s airport, already running at near capacity, is squeezing in more than 7,000 extra flights a year, with the aim of expanding the number to 18,000 within three years, the Post has learned.

Starting from March, Hong Kong International Airport has been adding 20 take-offs or landings to the current 1,150 per day.

That number will be raised over the next couple of years to meet a target of 1,200 flights per day by 2020, or 50 extra flights per day.

The move by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is expected to benefit Cathay Pacific Airways as it seeks to add new routes.

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The CAD can now approve more flights, at a time when the airport’s two runways are currently operating at 98.2 per cent of their annual capacity of 420,000 flights.

Both the CAD and the airport operator confirmed they were studying ways to “marginally” enhance the capacity of the two runways by using slots more efficiently and looking for more off-peak slots, including early mornings and late nights.

Aviation officials have repeatedly warned that Hong Kong’s airport is too busy, and drastic measures are needed. One option they are looking at is diverting business jets and freighter planes to land at nearby Zhuhai Airport.

In addition to the extra flights already in the pipeline, British airspace operator National Air Traffic Services, a consultant to the CAD, has approved of raising the limit of 68 flights per hour to 70 between 8am and 9.59pm.

According to aviation consultancy Flight Global, Hong Kong will see a net increase of 1,600 new long-haul flights this year – an annual growth rate of 8 per cent and the biggest since 2013. That adds up to nearly 400,000 new seats in a year.

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Among the new routes, Cathay Pacific has added flights to Tel Aviv, Barcelona and Christchurch. It also increased flights to destinations in North America. Hong Kong Airlines is making its biggest foray into intercontinental travel with new flights to Vancouver and Los Angeles, and extra flights to Auckland. In the regional short-haul market Cathay Dragon and HK Express are also making expansion pushes, particularly into Japan.

Ellis Taylor of Flight Global said of the growth strategy at Hong Kong’s airport: “As well as more international carriers flying into Hong Kong, it seems to reflect the change in focus for both Cathay and Hong Kong Airlines flying long haul, where they come up against less competition from the budget carriers, and to a lesser extent, the Middle East and other Asian carriers.”

Cathay Pacific is eyeing an opportunity to review its portfolio of slots as it sees an opportunity to boost passenger connections at its Hong Kong hub. Along with sister airline Cathay Dragon, it controls 45 per cent of take-off and landing slots.

Hong Kong Airlines, meanwhile, said it was open to sharing valuable slots with its new partner, Virgin Australia, which would help the airline realise its long-haul ambitions.

Officials attributed the expansion to confidence in the new air traffic control system, which has come under heavy criticism over multiple technical faults since it was introduced in November. But officials credited the system and frontline staff for handling higher workloads with no noticeable problems.

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The CAD said the system had “performed well” during the busiest times of the year and under severe weather conditions, handling more flights on a daily basis than the peak Christmas and New Year travel holidays last year.

Chinese University aviation policy expert Dr Law Cheung-kwok said the short-to-medium term constraints of the airport meant airlines would get smarter at securing more flights and handling more passengers.

“Some airlines may shift from smaller planes to larger ones, if the demand accommodates, and swap short-haul and regional destinations for long-haul routes.”