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Hong Kong aviation

Operate a quieter plane, get more flight slots at night: Hong Kong encourages airlines to fix noise pollution

Trial scheme focuses on non-environmentally friendly and noisy planes – instead of just restricting flights at night

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2017, 10:50pm

Airlines in Hong Kong are being encouraged to use cleaner and quieter aircraft in return for the chance to operate more flights at night.

A trial is under way for airlines flying out of Hong Kong International Airport to phase out older planes, as such flights contribute to noise pollution – a serious issue at night for nearby residents.

As an incentive, compliance will be rewarded with opportunities to operate more late evening, overnight and early morning flights. The scheme looks to focus on the cause of pollution problems rather than restricting aircraft movements, aviation authorities say.

The trial has already been in effect since March, and is expected to see benefits towards the end of the year if the plan continues on a full-time basis.

“The overarching objective of the quota count scheme is to encourage airlines to use more environmentally friendly aircraft at Hong Kong’s airport,” a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Department said.

Under the system, the noisier an aircraft the more points each flight accumulates. By switching to quieter planes fewer points are racked up.

Points go into a pool shared by all airlines, meaning they work together to minimise them and then each shares an equal chance of obtaining new night flight slots.

The scheme was inspired by an identical initiative in Britain.

Amid soaring demand and a lack of space for new daytime flights, the airport is shifting focus to night operations, with dozens of take-off and landing slots to be made available in coming years.

Hong Kong’s biggest airline, Cathay Pacific Airways, has moved to phase out older aircraft or swap noisier planes with the quieter and more fuel-efficient Airbus A350 on routes such as those to Auckland, Melbourne and Dusseldorf.

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The company has ordered 48 such planes and taken delivery of 17 so far.

For its efforts, it has increased opportunities for the approval of new night flights.

“We are committed to growing and modernising our fleet ... These environmentally friendly aircraft are fuel efficient, much quieter, and compliant with the industry’s Chapter 4 noise standards,” a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said.

But as authorities double down on noise control at night for passenger and cargo aircraft, the business jet industry has appealed to the department to allow its planes unrestricted access to night flights.

Instead of the most noisy flights, there will constantly be medium levels of noise
Roy Tam Hoi-pong, Ma Wan district councillor

It has a stronger case as the government’s trial scheme exempts small jets from the points system because they are quieter than conventional aircraft.

“The current lack of slots ... [has a] devastating effect on the business and general aviation industry in Hong Kong during the peak summer period,” the Asian Business Aviation Association has warned.

“This ongoing crisis, which has now reached a critical level, will impact jobs within the sector, and in turn, the contribution to Hong Kong’s economy.”

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However, an increased number of night flights will inevitably be unwelcome to residents living near the airport, such as those on Ma Wan island and Lantau, areas directly underneath flight paths.

Earlier this week, Roy Tam Hoi-pong, a district councillor representing Ma Wan and chief executive of environmental group Green Sense, was briefed by airport and department officials in his capacity as a councillor.

Tam said of the aircraft noise issue: “The problem hasn’t disappeared but there has been progress.”

He voiced concerns about the new scheme however.

“With the scheme implemented, I fear that instead of the most noisy flights, there will constantly be medium levels of noise,” he said.

“I am afraid this paves the way for more flights at night, and I just do not agree with that.”