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Expansion of Hong Kong International Airport is set to be ready in 2024. Photo: Dickson Lee

Hong Kong airport looking to speed up expansion work to cut impact on flight numbers

Authority aims to have new runway in use before existing landing strip closes, but wants to cut time needed for tunnelling work

The operator of  Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is mulling how to speed up key aspects of its expansion to increase flights and use three runways before the project’s 2024 completion date.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority’s options are focused on the closure of the northern runway in 2022 for about two years to allow for tunnelling work to create a road access for airport vehicles to cross the live runway safely without delaying or endangering aircraft.

Aircraft would start using the  new third runway before the existing runway closed, so flights would not be affected, but tunnelling work under the current northern take-off and landing strip could be sped up to shorten the 24-month closure.
HKIA is expanding and will add a third runway. Photo: Fung Chang

The expansion project, which includes a new passenger concourse and expanded terminal building, land reclamation and a new airport-based train and baggage system, is set to cost HK$141.5 billion (US$18 billion).

We are almost at the tunnel’s final design and we are trying all means to really reduce the impact of closing the runway
Tommy Leung King-yin, Hong Kong Airport Authority 

HKIA handled 420,000 flights and 72.9 million passengers last year, well above forecast, but there is little room for airlines to add new flights until after the completion date. 

The airport is also the world’s busiest for cargo.

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“We are still working hard to optimise the design. We share the same concerns [as airlines],” said Tommy Leung King-yin, the authority’s deputy director managing the third runway project, referring to the closure timescale.

“We are almost at the tunnel’s final design and we are trying all means to really reduce the impact of closing the runway. Two years is still a very aggressive target.”

Leung added: “It would be good to have everything open sooner.”

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The authority said on Thursday it had finished building a HK$1.3 billion aviation fuel pipeline to the airport.

On Monday, officials will update lawmakers on the latest progress of the third runway expansion.

The authority said none of its financial and spending targets or construction timelines had changed.

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The project, one of Hong Kong’s marquee infrastructure developments, has not been hit by cost overruns and project delays, which have been a feature of a number of key ventures including the  high-speed rail link to mainland China and the  Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Leung said the project was still on budget: “We are still on track, heading to commission the third runway in 2022 and the whole system in 2024.”

Legislator and professional pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho expressed surprise at the airport closing one runway in 2022. Tam said lawmakers knew the third runway would be complete by that year but he was not aware the authority would close one of the existing runways to facilitate the development.

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Tam planned to follow up on the issue at the Legislative Council’s economic development panel meeting on Monday.

“I definitely want to know how the Airport Authority will speed up the plan beyond 2022 to see the whole programme completed before 2024. Is it feasible? I want to hear their side of the story,” he said.

The Civic Party lawmaker said he would also press again on the unresolved matter of airspace, talks which involved the central government and Macau.

“By the time we have a third runway ready and we still can’t solve the airspace issue, how can we bring in the extra flights to Hong Kong,” Tam said.

Tam will also press officials on marine safety after a second accident involving a vessel in the vicinity of the construction of the third runway.