Hong Kong airport efficiency is all about market forces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 4:38pm

I refer to Clive Noffke's letter regarding the aircraft mix and flight destinations at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) ("Hong Kong airport is busy without due benefit or reward", August 22).

Mr Noffke suggested HKIA should request that airlines use more wide-bodied aircraft, and reduce its number of destinations to enhance efficiency and resource utilisation. The "new destination incentive arrangement" has not been in force since December 31, 2014.

Mr Noffke seems to believe that HKIA can control market demand and needs. But in reality, an airport does not determine its aircraft mix. Rather, it is the airlines, acting according to the market (that is, prevailing passenger travel patterns and preferences), that dictate aircraft mix. An airport simply provides the platform to help airlines optimally meet their passengers' needs. Any administrative interference that goes against market demand tends to reduce efficiency for both the airport and its users.

Hong Kong's success stems from its market demand-driven economy. It is also worth noting that HKIA is already the world's most efficient airport in terms of average number of passengers and volume of cargo carried per aircraft (or workload unit). In addition, over 60 per cent of aircraft at HKIA are wide-bodied, which represents the second-highest percentage among the world's top 100 passenger hubs.

If Mr Noffke's suggestion were valid, then it would be hard to explain why London Heathrow Airport - where capacity has been constrained for decades - has not changed its aircraft mix in favour of wide-bodied aircraft. Currently, more than 60 per cent of aircraft at Heathrow are narrow-bodied, which reflects the fact that the markets served by Heathrow demand high-frequency shuttle services best fulfilled by smaller aircraft.

Regarding flight destinations, airlines serve places that show business potential. Over time, destinations without real market support will be replaced by ones that have more demand.

This market adjustment mechanism ensures the most efficient use of every landing and take-off slot. Arbitrarily reducing the number of destinations at HKIA would ignore real demand and make the airport less effective in terms of serving the needs of the travelling public.

HKIA's extensive flight network took a long time to build, and its connectivity is a core part of Hong Kong's competitiveness. HKIA grows with Hong Kong and will always continue to serve the city's future development needs.

Julia Yan, general manager, strategic planning and development, Airport Authority Hong Kong