Third Hong Kong runway gets backing of 2,500 pilots 'to stop air congestion'

Delays on take-off and landing are harming the environment, pilots' body says as green groups fight plans for expansion at Chek Lap Kok

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 6:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 8:37am

An association representing 2,500 pilots in Hong Kong has voiced support for a third airport runway, saying air traffic congestion during peak hours is already forcing planes to wait for 15 minutes or more to take off.

This has resulted in higher fuel usage and carbon emissions, according to the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association, which represents pilots at Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express.

Sticking to just two runways could affect the city's competitiveness and status as a global aviation hub, the association's president, Captain Darryl Soligo, said.

"During peak times, it is not unusual to wait at the holding point for more than 15 minutes before take-off, with up to 10 aircraft waiting," Soligo said.

"Arrival is different. Most times of the day, we need to slow down from our optimal descent speed to get into sequence, and holding is not unusual during peak times.

"These practices will increase airtime, thus in turn increasing fuel burn and emission."

Debate over whether Chek Lap Kok airport needs a third runway was reignited after the Airport Authority, which in 2011 estimated the project would cost HK$136 billion, released its long-awaited environmental impact assessment report last month.

One of the authority's consultants, Dr Thomas Jefferson, has said a decrease in dolphin numbers was to be expected during construction.

On green matters, Soligo said he could only say that "if congestion increased, more emissions would come as a result".

His argument was challenged by Friends of the Earth assistant environmental affairs manager Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung.

Chau said an extra runway would mean more flights coming in and out of the city, ultimately increasing emissions.

She believed the existing runways could handle more than the roughly 60 flight movements now recorded per hour, pointing to the authority's 1992 report that said the system could in fact handle 86 flights.

But the Civil Aviation Department has said the 1992 report does not consider factors including the surrounding landscape.

In 2011, the authority wrote that the dual-runway system would reach its practical capacity between 2019 and 2022.

However, the International Air Transport Association reportedly suggested in its latest review that this might come between one and three years earlier than the authority had suggested.

If airlines in Hong Kong wanted to expand without a third runway, Soligo said "they either have to depart very late in the evening, after midnight, or very early in the morning. For freight operations this may be OK, but passengers do not prefer these timings."

He also called for an easing of mainland regulations that required planes from Hong Kong to fly at a minimum of 15,700 feet.

The rule means mainland-bound planes must ascend suddenly, creating traffic problems. Soligo said lowering the restriction would ease congestion and allow for more flights.