IF THE new Chek Lap Kok airport was a private corporation it would rank among the giants of Hong Kong's business world. By 1998, at the end of its first scheduled full year of operation (political factors allowing), it will generate revenues of $8.85 billion and ''operating profit'' of $7.03 billion. To put that in context, conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, the fifth largest firm on the Hang Seng Index, last year turned in operating profits of $4.095 billion. The huge business potential of Chek Lap Kok is something that is not fully appreciated, according to Richard Judy, interim commercial and operations director at the Provisional Airport Authority (PAA). By 2010, when an estimated 58 million passengers will use the airport, revenues will amount to $22.70 billion, giving operating profit of $16.79 billion. Out of this $2.62 billion would come from the passenger terminal charge. Commercial revenues, largely retail, would contribute $12.62 billion while revenue from aircraft operations and services would be $7.47 billion. Net profit after tax and capital expenditure would amount to $10.39 billion, according to PAA forecasts. A total of 470 businesses would be operating at Chek Lap Kok, employing 11,000 people. These firms would range from huge aircraft maintenance operators to small fashion boutiques, and an exhibition centre to a fuel supply provider. ''This is one of the most complex diverse businesses in the whole of Hong Kong,'' said Mr Judy. ''My God, it is mammoth. You have a business operating 24 hours a day forever; every system has to function every day forever.'' Airport income will come from three sources: handling fees and aircraft movement, the terminal building including retail facilities, and support services. Total income was known as ''the single cash register'' and it should be ringing often enough to guarantee the Government a return of about 16.5 per cent on its investment, said Mr Judy. The biggest cash generator is retail space. On opening day there should be 150 shops in the airport terminal which will cover an area of 376,000 sq ft and bill sales of $5.4 billion a year. Mr Judy, who joined the PAA a year ago, has become a controversial figure and question marks arose over his future role with the authority when the jobs of commercial director and operations director were advertised. Controversial too is the question of how much competition there should be at Chek Lap Kok. ''It is only through competition that you get efficiencies. Our board has said, and our government, that we want to introduce as much competition as possible,'' said Mr Judy. PAA board member David Gledhill is understood to have been critical of some aspects of the pro-competition policy. Mr Judy said that Mr Gledhill was in agreement with the broad direction the new airport was taking. Chief executive Hank Townsend added: ''Many times when people communicate with each other it is not that they disagree but they have questions about it. I don't like to isolate David because we have other members who raise questions and may take opposingsides.'' Competition at Kai Tak is limited because of site availability but at Chek Lap Kok the restraints are off and the PAA envisages awarding, for instance, two licences for base maintenance and three or four for catering. The exception to the competition policy is in aviation fuel where there will be only one licensee. Most licences are due to be awarded next spring. Two existing operations at Kai Tak, Hong Kong Aircraft and Engineering Co and Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals have expressed disappointment that their contracts would not be automatically renewed and that they will instead have to compete through open tender. Should an oligopolistic situation develop for aircraft services, Mr Judy said the fall-back situation was that airlines would be able to carry out self-handling for some services. This option is carried as a right in most air service agreements. Mr Judy said that Cathay Pacific had already shown interest in building its own air catering facilities.