Hong Kong should start planning for a fourth airport runway or run the risk of being overtaken by competing regional hubs in an increasingly competitive global aviation market, a debate has been told. As the city struggles to roll-out the construction of a third runway, transport lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, has told the latest South China Morning Post Redefining Hong Kong debate that the government needs to start thinking further into the future if it wants to retain its place as one of the world’s premier aviation destinations. “We need to plan ahead. Shall we start to talk about the fourth runway?” Yick said. The debate, entitled: Is Hong Kong’s aviation hub leading or lagging the regional competition? in which leading figures tackled key issues facing the industry. “We need to plan . It’s time to start to think and talk about the future. That’s for sure,” he added. The call from the Liberal Party lawmaker comes as cities across the region gear up for expansion. Singapore’s Changi Airport is planning a massive fifth terminal and Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport has its sights set on a fourth and fifth runway by 2025. In contrast, the construction of Hong Kong’s HK$141.5 billion third runway only begins this year, six years after it was first announced. It is expected to be completed in 2023. Red flag raised over marine safety after Hong Kong’s third runway is built Andrew Cowen, CEO of budget airline Hong Kong Express, told the debate that officials needed to explore ways of making better use of existing airport infrastructure to accommodate the third runway. “One thing is very important: the will to drive it through,” he said, adding Hong Kong needs to reduce operational costs to stay competitive. Other speakers also urged the government to boost connectivity with the mainland, especially the Pearl River Delta (PRD). One key focus of the debate was the issue of access to mainland airspace, the restriction of which many believe is responsible for chronic flight delays. Michael Beer, vice president of Citigroup’s Asia Pacific Transportation, Infrastructure and Logistics Research said top-level talks between Hong Kong and the mainland were needed to iron out the problems. “There are some significant opportunities... We need to have a very frank discussion at a very high level,” he said. James Tong, director of Cathay Pacific Airways’ Corporate Affairs, saw huge potential in the Pearl River Delta area. “For us, the PRD as a big market. That is a pie in which everyone can share,” Tong told the debate. Tong also said Hong Kong needs to fight for more mainland airspace, dismissing suggestions of enhancing Hong Kong’s connectivity with the mainland through division of labour such as focusing on one area only. The panelists expressed confidence that the third runway would be built by 2023, however, acknowledged the “complexity” of reclamation work could cause delays.