Hong Kong airport runway slots being hijacked for profit via online booking system

Precious positions becoming scarcer for private jets because unscrupulous players are rigging the system, aviation regulator source says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 8:54am

Precious runway slots are becoming scarcer for private jets at Hong Kong’s airport because a new online booking platform has been hijacked by unscrupulous players rigging the system for profit, the Post has learned.

Unidentified companies or individuals were using computer algorithms to snap up take-off and landing slot rights as soon as they became available, an aviation regulator source said.

The Post understands that the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), through its Schedule Coordination Office, which handles runway slot allocations, has started investigating allegations that private jet slots are being scalped for “thousands of US dollars” amid unprecedented demand for flying access.

When asked about it yesterday, the CAD said it had found no evidence so far, but would continue looking into it.

Private jet booking system for Hong Kong airport leads to slots going to waste

But business aviation industry insiders said the situation was escalating out of control, and they would consider legal action against the department if no action was taken.

The online booking platform for private jet operators was officially rolled out on March 15 to make the most efficient use of the airport’s two runways, which are approaching maximum capacity.

“Some operators or users create some software to automate the refreshing process of the system because it’s real-time,” the source said of how the booking system was being exploited.

The platform, which attracts hundreds of hits a day on average, was swamped by 40,000 hits on March 19, within days of its launch, the source said, quoting the system’s software developer.

The overbooking has frustrated those who have to make do with reserved flight slots that later become available if they remain unused. These slots are only placed back in the system 24 hours before departure time, leaving takers with no time to plan a flight and secure landing rights at the destination airport.

Private jet operators court China’s billionaire travellers

“Access and how you can book a slot needs to be tightened up further,” said Mike Walsh, an executive committee member of the Asian Business Aviation Association and CEO of Hong Kong-based private plane company Asia Jet. “Desperate times force desperate measures. Past behaviours have to change immediately, along with the realisation that the airport is reaching capacity with its current two-runway system.”

Association chairman Charlie Mulkarski said they were anxious to maintain Hong Kong’s reputation as a friendly environment for high-flying businesspeople seeking fast and convenient travel

arrangements.

“Solutions to the slot issue are coming,” he said, “but will not be overnight. Everyone is learning [the new system] and we must act together to set expectations and improve behaviours so the system can be optimised to manage business aviation needs.”

According to the source, those responsible for hacking into the system were unlikely to be caught as they had exploited loopholes that they were now trying to plug with mandatory log-in requirements for booking slots.

The CAD warned business jet operators last month to make the “most efficient use of” runway slots to “avoid wastage of valuable” capacity. Misused slots could lead to an ­operator being assigned lower priority for future rights or not being allowed to take off at all, the department added.

On some days, as few as six bookings are available for private jets daily.