Cathay Pacific Airways will open its HK$5.9 billion air cargo terminal at Hong Kong International Airport about five months early on February 21.
The complex, which will become fully operational by the end of this year, will boost airfreight capacity at the airport by 50 per cent to 7.4 million tonnes. By comparison, total cargo throughput rose about 1 per cent last year to 4 million tonnes.
John Slosar, the airline's chief executive, said Cathay Pacific was able to shorten the construction and development programme by carrying out more detailed project planning when work on the 240,000 square metre complex stopped due to poor global economic conditions.
Construction of the facility, which will be able to handle 2.6 million tonnes of cargo, was halted soon after work started in late 2008, and restarted in April 2010.
The complex, which has been built on a 109,000 square metre site between Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (Hactl) and the Asia Airfreight Terminal (AAT), will become operational in three phases.
Portia Cheuk, spokeswoman for Cathay Pacific Services, which was set up to design, build and operate the terminal, said the facility will initially handle transit and valuable cargo. Phase two will see the terminal handling transshipment and import cargo from summer, while the third phase, covering export cargo, starts "late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter".
Cheuk said Cathay was mindful of the cargo chaos when Hactl opened in 1998, and wanted to "take a more prudent approach".
Slosar said the facility will first handle Cathay Pacific and Dragonair cargo, but under its 20-year franchise from the Airport Authority, Cathay Pacific could later handle cargo for other airlines in competition with Hactl and AAT.
The facility is equipped with an automated material handling system to help move and store laden and empty airfreight containers together with areas for bulk cargo, dangerous goods, livestock and perishables such as seafood and flowers.
About 1,800 people will be employed at the seven-storey building when it is fully operational, including 500-600 directly employed by Cathay Pacific Services. But very few have been drawn from rival operators because the airport community was already "a few thousand people" short, said Algernon Yau Ying-Wah, Cathay Pacific Services chief executive.