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Greater Bay Area

Zhuhai Airport could act as Hong Kong’s ‘fourth runway’ in bid to strengthen economic ties and boost air traffic

Plan would see freight planes, business jets and some international cargo handled by Zhuhai in bid to free up space for more commercial flights in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 11:41pm

Zhuhai Airport wants to act as Hong Kong’s “fourth runway” to allow for more flights and increased cooperation, as part of the ambitious Greater Bay Area integration strategy.

Officials and experts said Hong Kong International Airport would be too busy between 2019 and 2020 to launch new flights before its third runway was ready, despite forecasts about soaring air travel demands. The boss of Zhuhai Airport said it was in the best position to complement the city.

His plan is to divert freighter aircraft, business jets and some international cargo handling to Zhuhai to free up space for more commercial passenger flights in Hong Kong.

The Greater Bay Area development strategy, aimed at integrating Hong Kong, Macau, and nine cities in Guangdong province, capitalises on the economic reinvention of the Pearl River Delta. The hope is that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, under construction now, can act as a link between the two airports.

Closer ties would also be financially beneficial to Hong Kong’s Airport Authority, which has a 55 per cent stake and a long-term management contract to run Zhuhai Airport.

Albert Yau, general manager of the mainland airport, said Zhuhai’s air hub should be factored into the Airport Authority’s expansion plans to support Hong Kong’s development.

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“The key thing is to make Zhuhai Airport the fourth runway before the third runway at Hong Kong airport is complete so there is an extra take-off and landing strip for the city’s economy to use,” Yau said.

Hong Kong’s crowded airport handles more than 1,100 commercial flights a day and has almost run out of room for more take-off and landing slots. The business jet sector has suffered significant cuts in the number of slots it can use, which on some days, is whittled down to a handful.

Explaining the need for closer cooperation, Yau said: “Once the bridge is complete it’s about how we can find synergies in passenger and cargo transfer and make the cake bigger and bigger to compete with Shenzhen and Guangzhou. That’s the objective.”

Dr Law Cheung-kwok, director of policy at Chinese University’s Aviation Policy and Research Centre, said the region’s airports – Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Macau and Zhuhai – were all circling to take advantage of Hong Kong’s runway capacity constraints.

“It would be convenient and effective if some of the spillover of business in the subsequent years is picked up by Zhuhai,” Law said. “Zhuhai Airport is likely to be in the best position to provide supplementary, complementary services to Hong Kong.”

Coinciding with its offer, Zhuhai is building a 260,000 square metre air cargo logistics park at the airport with Hong Kong’s international cargo in mind. The development, in two phases, would see Zhuhai build customs clearance and security facilities, ready within two years, to handle international cargo, particularly to and from Hong Kong.

Dedicated roads through the Pearl River Delta would connect to the bridge, meaning moving cargo securely between the two airports would take 70 minutes, Yau said. However, the plan would need to overcome the different customs rules in the two jurisdictions.

Hong Kong handled 4.5 million tonnes of air freight last year, and the government said an estimated 70 per cent originated from the Pearl River Delta or was destined for it.

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The offer from Zhuhai would boil down to the connectivity it provided, the logistics support and facilities it offered, the overall cost of extra transportation including the bridge toll fees, and the relaxation of rules and regulations between the mainland and Hong Kong, Law said.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said the logistics and transportation sector could play a part in the Greater Bay Area concept.

“The development of the Bay Area will ... boost demand for aviation and logistics services from mainland and overseas investors, which would expand the hinterland for the development” of the two industries for Hong Kong, a spokesman explained.

Signalling the “great opportunity” for the development of Hong Kong’s airport, the bureau added: “We will strive to enhance co-operation and co-ordination with other major airports in the PRD region, leveraging each other’s differentiation and respective strengths under the principle of complementarity, in order to achieve a win-win situation.”