Public consultation papers released this week on the government's proposed privatisation of the Airport Authority have prompted concerns that aviation-related charges at Chek Lap Kok will be raised ahead of the listing to give its shares a better valuation on the stock market. Critics have argued that such a move would alienate passengers and reduce Chek Lap Kok's position as Asia's most important air hub and mainland gateway as increased charges would probably be passed on to consumers through higher air fares. However, the government moved yesterday to distance itself from the speculation, saying it would let the three-month consultation run its course before deciding on ways to improve the airport's attractiveness to investors. A spokesman said no official statement would be made on the consultation documents until after officials from the Economic Development and Labour Bureau met legislators on Monday. Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Howard Lee Tat-chi denied reports in the Chinese-language media yesterday that the government had already decided to raise aviation-related charges at the airport ahead of the privatisation. 'I don't know why they would say that. There have also been reports quoting the government that increases in air fares were inevitable as a result of raised airport charges. We didn't say that either,' Mr Lee said. 'We have not issued any statements on the public consultation documents because we will be in the Legislative Council on Monday and we don't want to pre-empt those discussions.' The consultation documents include a proposal for the authority to set down charges for airlines for the three to five-year period following the privatisation and the creation of an independent arbitration body if airlines disagree with the airport's user-pricing decisions. The papers also state that the airport's profitability has been poor over the past few years and there is a danger that the initial public offering would be a disappointment based on investors' demand for better returns in the near term. As such, raising charges could be one way to rectify the situation and lead to a better return from the offering for the government and hence taxpayers who funded Chek Lap Kok's development. A Cathay Pacific Airways statement said privatising the airport was 'not only an issue for the aviation or tourism industries; it also is a key issue for Hong Kong's future economic development'.