Jake's View
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Crying big tears over those vain private jet business travellers

Don’t pity them over their woes, just charge them the going rate by auctioning landing slots

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2016, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2016, 9:06am

The plans – which include more take-off and landing slots for the growing number of high-flying business executives and tycoons for whom normal air travel is not an option – follow a row over abuse of the current system for booking runway slots.

SCMP, June 2

What abuse? Our government underpriced landing slots for private jets at the airport and an unofficial market then arose to push those slot prices back up to where they belong, with private speculators pocketing the difference.

 

Transport Chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung says he recognises the positive impact of the business aviation sector. What positive impact?

There is an easy solution for our bureaucrats if they don’t like the thought of speculators making money this way, price those slots at their true value from the start. The only abuse I see here is the abuse of the public’s right to be fully compensated for the use of public assets.

And if the bureaucrats say they do not know what the right price is, I have a universal truth for them – no-one knows. To find out, you allow the market itself to price these slots. This is done by auctioning them. We should make these high-flying executives bid for their rights to fly their private jets here.

But it won’t happen. Instead the plan is to close the “loopholes” in the online booking system (translation: continue the under-pricing) and give private jets even more landing slots on runways that are already nearing saturation. Transport Chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung says he recognises the positive impact of the business aviation sector.

What positive impact?

In order to rate this accolade we would need evidence that there truly are people “for whom normal air travel is not an option” but whose presence here contributes measurably to the greater wealth of Hong Kong and must therefore be allowed to come in private jets.

I call your bluff, Mr Cheung. Let’s see your cards. I don’t believe it.

For starters, I have been upgraded on occasion to first class on Cathay Pacific and it’s very nice, very nice indeed. Again, please. I cannot believe that the even more costly but bumpy ride of a private jet is really that much better than this sort of normal air travel.

And as to private jets being more convenient because the passengers can go anywhere at any time, well, I don’t think many go to the boonies of Thailand, and, if it is Singapore they want, they have their choice from here of 23 commercial flights a day. To London there is no private jet that flies non-stop.

Asia is not the United States with hundreds of little airports frequented by private aircraft. This is a region of big city airports with not much in between and it is most conveniently reached from the US or Europe by long-range commercial flight.

Private jets in Asia, as private jet salesmen know quite well, are not about necessity, much as this may be the sales pitch, but about dreams of grandeur, illusions of importance and raw vanity all round. You want to be a big swingin’? Let everyone know you came in your own jet.

Very well, let these people have their vanities. I have my own. But why should we ease their way with yet more underpriced landing slots? Jam a ball of wax into your ear the next time these private jet touts come round to see you, Mr Cheung.

And here are two further ideas for you, Sir. The airport has just proposed a new departure tax of an average of maybe HK$120 a passenger to pay for a third runway. Let’s charge private jets the equivalent for starters before we even talk the price of private jet landing slots.

The average commercial flight on the runway carries 200 passengers. That gives us 200 times HK$120 for a private jet on the runway. Do the private jet touts say that HK$24,000 is too much for their cash-strapped clients? Oh, I cry, such big tears.

Better idea yet. Let’s not just create a formal auction for private jet landing slots. Let’s do it for all aircraft. It is the best way of funding construction of the third runway. The stronger the demand the more money that will be raised.

But this makes financial sense. Can’t have that in government.