Hong Kong airport needs a third runway as much as Heathrow does

Tony Kwok says opponents of a third runway in Hong Kong should take note of a key report recommending expansion of the London airport

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 August, 2015, 11:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 August, 2015, 11:31am

Critics of the Hong Kong International Airport's proposal to build a third runway often cite London's Heathrow as an example of how a major international air hub can grow without building a third runway. Now with the publication of Britain's Airports Commission report last month, recommending that a third runway be built at Heathrow, their argument now rings hollow.

The Airports Commission is an independent commission formed three years ago by the British government to look at the problem of Heathrow's capacity and recommend a way forward. After three years of extensive consultation, investigation, evidence gathering and analysis, the commission, chaired by Howard Davies, unambiguously concluded that building a third runway at Heathrow is the only solution that can help British businesses compete for global growth.

The commission further concluded that, in a complex and competitive global environment, it would be short-sighted and perilous to place Britain's world-leading connectivity at risk by failing to build the third runway immediately.

Even based on the most optimistic estimate, work on Hong Kong's third runway won't start until 2016, and won't open until 2024

Indeed some experts calculated that even over the period it could take for the new runway to be built, Britain will lose up to £31 billion (HK$375 billion) in trade from limited growth in flights.

Hong Kong International Airport's situation is no different from Heathrow's. The competition from other major cities is causing a major threat to Hong Kong as Asia's major hub airport. Singapore has already started work on a third runway. Seoul has three and is building a fourth to open in 2020. Shanghai Pudong has four runways and is building a fifth to open in 2018. Guangzhou has three runways and is building two more.

Even based on the most optimistic estimate, work on Hong Kong's third runway won't start until 2016, and won't open until 2024. Despite the threat of huge economic losses, the fight is still on, and no one knows when work on the third runway can start.

I'm no expert on aviation, but with the rapid growth in China and other parts of Asia, common sense will conclude that a third runway here is inevitable.

I remember visiting the Hong Kong Cross-Harbour Tunnel head office many years ago. They put up press clippings of prominent citizens and politicians who said Hong Kong did not need a cross-harbour tunnel. Today they are a laughing stock for all visitors.

I suggest the Airport Authority keep similar press clippings on those who argue that Hong Kong does not need a third runway in their exhibition hall, and let time be the judge of whether they are wiser than most of us.

Tony Kwok Man-wai is former deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption