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August 9th, 2011:

Aviation adviser calls for regional airspace accord

South China Morning Post – 9 Aug 2011

Authority’s consultant says pact with neighbours could help ease Southeast Asia’s crowded skies

A consultant who studied plans to build a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport has recommend that Hong Kong enter a pact with Southeast Asia’s other major air-traffic hubs to ease the region’s crowded airspace.

London-based aviation adviser NATS said in a report the Airport Authority released yesterday that better information sharing between the region’s big cities could let passengers spend less time in holding patterns or sitting on the tarmac.

The firm urged local authorities to spearhead the creation of a regional airport “cluster” to better exchange information when bad weather or other events snarl air traffic.

“There is currently no means of regulating traffic within the Southeast Asian area except by local agreements between area control centres,” said NATS, which had previously studied the implications of building a new landing strip at the busy Lantau Island airport.

“This lack of capacity management allows significant traffic peaks to develop,” the report continued.

The 13-year-old Hong Kong International Airport, which is running at 90 per cent of capacity at peak hours, has already formed a network with airports in Taiwan and Japan since receiving the report.

“If there is a storm over Taiwan, for example, the airports there should notify us so we could stop our flights from taking off,” said one Hong Kong civil aviation officer.

The consultant also advised aviation authorities to liaise with airlines over the amount of time their pilots spend on the runway.

The report found that while the average plane landing in Hong Kong stays on the runway for 54.9 seconds before taxiing to the terminal, a flight into London’s overcrowded Heathrow airport makes way for other planes in less than 50 seconds.

The airport could increase its capacity by training pilots to leave the runway more quickly, NATS found. The civil aviation officer said several air carriers had pledged to alert their pilots to the problem. “Sometimes pilots linger on the runway in order to take the closest exit to stand,” the official said. “Now we ask them to leave the runway as soon as they can.”

The firm also proposed Hong Kong to assume a leading role in processing air traffic data among the five airports in the Pearl River Delta including Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, to improve traffic flow. Hong Kong and the mainland have long been at odds over which side should give up its system and no immediate solutions are expected.

Airport plan won’t fly without fuel

South China Morning Post – 9 Aug 2011

The Airport Authority should not overlook the threat of peak oil in its forecast

If a third runway is added to Hong Kong International Airport, it would not be fully operational until the 2020s. The Airport Authority argues that it is necessary, based on projections of rising demand for air travel.

But an important consideration is missing in most of the debates: the probability that so-called “peak oil” (the peak and subsequent decline in worldwide oil production) will occur during the next two decades.

“Peak oil” analysis is based on a comparison between major discoveries of oilfields in the past, production from those fields, and the decline in major discoveries in recent decades. Many existing fields have already gone into decline, and a number of countries have seen a drop in domestic oil production for this reason.

The timing of the global peak of oil production is hard to predict. But a number of analysts have concluded that it is imminent. For example, a report prepared for the US government in 2005 by Robert Hirsch and others estimated that peak oil would occur “within 20 years” (that is, by 2025 or earlier), and that this would cause “protracted economic hardship”, including a “severe liquid fuels problem” for the transport sector.

Some plants of the genus Jatropha can be grown on marginal land and processed into jet fuel, and research continues on algae as a fuel source, but there is a serious problem scaling up production to supply the 60 billion to 70 billion gallons of jet fuel consumed annually by the world’s airlines. Biofuels will evidently not be able to replace oil as the main fuel source for aviation.

There is uncertainty in predictions about “peak oil”, and the impacts will be complicated, because big increases in oil prices lead to recessions, temporarily reducing demand for oil. But one certainty is that the price of oil will be higher in the future because its depletion is irreversible.

The Airport Authority is proposing to spend billions on a third runway on the basis of estimated continual growth in demand for air travel. But those estimates should include a consideration of alternative projections and probable losses if “peak oil” occurs within the coming two decades, as has been widely predicted.

Hong Kong has enough spare airport capacity to cover increases in demand to the early 2020s; upgrading projects will increase capacity to 74 million passengers by 2030, at a fraction of the cost of a third runway. So, Hong Kong could accommodate substantial increases in air travel without the extra financial and environmental costs of a third runway, for which the demand may disappear before it has been completed. In any case, “peak oil” scenarios should be part of the analysis.

Graeme Lang is a professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies at City University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Airport Runway May Cause Pollution to Exceed Limit

By Jasmine Wang – Aug 9, 2011 2:59 PM GMT+0200

Hong Kong airport’s proposed HK$136 billion ($17 billion) third runway may cause the level of pollutant nitrogen dioxide in the facility’s vicinity to exceed the limit set by the city’s government, according to a study.

Annual cumulative concentrations of the gas in the airport and nearby areas may range between 16.5 micrograms and 81.1 micrograms per cubic meter, Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd., appointed by the Airport Authority Hong Kong to assess the effect on air quality, said in its report. The government has proposed halving the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, found in vehicle exhaust, in Hong Kong to 40 micrograms per cubic meter.

The consultant’s 2010 report was one of the eight posted on the authority’s website yesterday as it performs a three-month public consultation to end Sept. 2. Another report by HSBC Holdings Plc said rising construction costs may increase the authority’s pre-financing cash shortfall.

The air quality report was based on a maximum projected capacity of 620,000 annual flight movements. The authority will conduct a more detailed assessment and ensure the project complies with the law, it said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg News questions. The authority also said HSBC’s report “has sought to establish a prudent financing plan such that the underlying financial profile of the AAHK remains robust.”

Cash Shortfall

The authority’s HK$112.8 billion pre-financing cash shortfall for the new runway may increase to HK$133 billion because of rising construction costs, according to a May 31 report by HSBC, a financial adviser for the project.

The third runway will cost HK$86.2 billion in 2010 prices, equivalent to HK$136.2 billion with inflation, according to the authority’s estimates.

Asia’s third-busiest airfield is considering the new runway to serve an estimated 97 million passengers by 2030. The project, which may take about nine years to complete, will also help handle 8.9 million tons of cargo.

The airport may need to reclaim about 650 hectares of land from the sea to build the runway. Groups including Civic Party lawmakers have opposed the plan on concern about its effect on marine wildlife, including the endangered pink dolphin.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (293), the city’s biggest carrier, said on June 2 that it gave “full and unequivocal backing” for the third runway. The city’s airport boosted passenger numbers about 10 percent last year to 50.9 million, trailing only Beijing and Tokyo Haneda in Asia.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jasmine Wang in Hong Kong at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Neil Denslow at