The Hong Kong Airport Authority said it would run out of space ahead of schedule on stronger-than-expected traffic growth.
The forecast came yesterday as the authority reported a 32 per cent jump in net profit to HK$5.3 billion in the year to March.
Profit at the world's third-busiest airport by international passengers was more than double the HK$2.58 billion for the 2008/2009 fiscal year, while passenger traffic has risen 15 per cent over the past three years.
Higher contributions from the retailing and advertising divisions, attributable profit from its 35 per cent stake in Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport as well as cuts in its debt level helped to buoy earnings.
Retailing and advertising accounted for 37 per cent of total revenue last year, for the first time overtaking flight-related operations such as parking and security fees.
The number of passengers grew to 54.9 million, up by 6.6 per cent from a year earlier, while cargo volume dipped 5.9 per cent year-on-year to 3.9 million tonnes on waning US and European consumption.
'The traffic volume at Chek Lap Kok is two to three years ahead of what we forecast in the 2030 master plan,' authority chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung said.
'It means we will meet maximum capacity earlier than we thought.'
In the master plan the authority forecast that the airport would operate at its maximum capacity by 2020. In light of the stronger growth, new expansion would be needed in addition to the HK$12.2 billion midfield and west apron extension plan, which seeks to create 36 more aircraft parking spaces by 2015.
The third runway project, which is still going through an environmental impact assessment, will not be completed before 2022.
'There is some unused land in the midfield that could be used to build three rows of parking spaces and cater for dozens of airplanes,' one executive said. In the long run, the HK$136.2 billion third runway project is an overhang on the profitability of the airport, a facility that is fully owned by Hong Kong government.
An initial public offering is one of the options to close the funding shortfall, which is projected to amount to HK$112.8 billion in 2030.
'It's totally up to the new government whether we will float our shares or not,' William Lo Chi-chung, the authority's executive director of finance, said.
Hui said the airport would not prosper if it was not fully integrated with other airports in the Pearl River Delta.
He said the authority would support any infrastructure designed to link up the airports.
Hui also said Hong Kong would not offer low-cost carriers more incentives than full-service carriers because the city was already well-positioned to help the carriers tap the mainland market.