Portugal's air link with its Asian enclave, Macau International Airport, is being touted as a 'bargain' alternative to Hong Kong as it bids to lure more flights and business. Hong Kong landing fees are expected to more than double from $32,340 to $65,000 when the airport moves from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok next year. Airlines say they will have no choice but to make passengers pay by imposing a $200 surcharge on every ticket - representing a 10 per cent increase in the price of short-haul flights to such destinations as Taiwan and the Philippines. Macau now hopes to capitalise on the price rise, pointing out that landing fees at its 18-month-old US$1-billion airport are a mere $20,000. The airport authority notes that offices, housing for staff and hotel rooms for air crew are also significantly cheaper in Macau. With only 50 or 60 flights a day currently landing at Macau, delayed aircraft are spared the problem of being allocated new landing slots. Yet, so far, neither cheaper prices nor less congestion have failed to compensate most airlines for the inconvenience of flying to Hong Kong via Macau. Passengers, especially those weighed down with luggage, are generally reluctant to haul their bags from the Taipa island airport to the jetfoil terminal for the transfer to Hong Kong. They would also have to pass through Macau and Hong Kong immigration. But negotiations are now in the 'final stages' to overcome the hurdle - and hopefully boost the attraction of landing in Macau. Long-delayed plans for a jetfoil terminal at the airport, offering high-speed transfers to Hong Kong, are nearing completion. Passengers will one day be whisked straight to Hong Kong without being bothered by Macau immigration. It will not be possible to introduce the service before Hong Kong's new airport opens, however. Parties involved in talks between casino tycoon Stanley Ho's Shun Tak Group and Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM) with the Macau Civil Aviation Authority are said to be close to agreement. 'There is no going back at this stage,' Captain Augusto Lizardo, executive manager at STDM's shipping department, said. The go-ahead will await final approval by the Macau Government and the Sino-Portuguese Joint Liaison Group. Technical details such as quarantine agreements have also to be agreed with the Hong Kong Government. Once the hitches had been resolved, Captain Lizardo said the service could be up and running within 18 months of work starting on the airport jetfoil terminal, which was expected to cost US$10 million. Compared to Kai Tak, Macau's airport for now remains a backwater, although it is slowly picking up pace. In its first three months last year only 160,000 passengers passed through. This year, numbers were up to 418,000 - a 160 per cent increase. As Portugal's Consul-General in Hong Kong, Fernando Pinto dos Santos, noted: 'Even at a million passengers a year, Macau is probably busier than the airport at Porto, which is Portugal's second biggest city.' Meanwhile, cargo freight soared by 800 per cent, underlining a distinct Macau advantage: its convenience for shipping freight to China. 'We are not in the business of competing with Hong Kong but we are extremely happy with our spectacular growth,' an airport spokesman said. This year's target of 1.6 million passengers seems likely to be achieved given the slow but steady increase in flights. Already the enclave's fledgling airline, Air Macau, offers services to five Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Wuhan and Xiamen), as well as Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. It also flies to Bangkok.