Other ways always exist

THE Government is developing an unhappy record for putting forward plans as absolutely necessary, only to reveal - when pressure is applied - that alternatives exist, after all.

When the Government was considering, earlier this year, ways of increasing capacity at the over-stretched Kai Tak Airport, the only approach (it was said) was to lengthen the night-curfew period by 30 minutes. This would have allowed an extra six flights each night. No one liked the idea but, given the importance to the economy of tourism and business travel, the proposal was supported by business groups. It was, of course, solidly opposed by people living under the flight-path and by environmentalists. The latter groups won the debate and the proposal was scrapped.

Now it emerges that there is (and, presumably, always was) another way of tackling the problem.

The South China Morning Post reports today that the Government plans to allow 20 more flights to be squeezed in during the morning and evening peak times. It will put this proposal to the Advisory Committee on the Environment in August, along with some measures to help limit the noise problem in the early morning.

Affected residents will not be happy with this new scheme. But in the practical world of running an airport in the middle of a city, aviation officials can work only with 'less-bad' plans, not ideal ones. Squeezing in extra flights within the curfew, plus imposing controls which limit movements during sensitive times to more modern, less noisy planes, is not as bad as extending the time limits. This plan even allows for more flights than the old one.

But the Government will have to answer the question: why was this alternative not the preferred plan in the first place?