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March 22nd, 2015:

Airspace deal with mainland over third runway at Chek Lap Lok will not be disclosed

Details of deal with mainland authorities to allow for proposed third runway at ChekLap Lok contains ‘sensitive’ information

The government has refused to disclose details of an agreement with mainland authorities on airspace in the Pearl River Delta, as the controversy into granting a third runway at Chek Lap Kok continues to escalate.

Transport Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the information was being kept confidential because of its “sensitive” details.

“The plan itself set forth various objectives, targets and measures to be implemented until the year 2020,” Cheung said. “The document contains a lot of commercial and strategic sensitivities, so we don’t think it is right for us to just publish the plan.”

Critics of the planned construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok have said airspace in the region is already too congested to accommodate additional flights.

They have urged the government to reveal more about the so-called ‘2007 plan’, which was agreed by aviation officials in Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau after more than a decade of talks aimed at resolving airspace problems.

Former Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying said no one was asking to see the whole agreement.

“What we want to see is the agreed plan showing the airspace allocation to the various parties and the new pattern of flight routes,” said Lam.

He said the specifics should be public information as major airspace changes had to be submitted to the UN’s aviation regulator, as well as pilots and air traffic controllers.

Albert Lam Kwong-yu, the predecessor to incumbent Norman Lo Shung-man as the Civil Aviation Department chief, hinted that he supported Cheung’s decision.

“I am not the best judge to say whether this information is appropriate to disclose or not. Only the one who says so is the best judge,” Lam said.

Another ex-head of the aviation regulator, Peter Lok Kung-nam maintained his opposition to the third runway.

This comes after Cheung said Lok had performed a U-turn and backed the airport expansion. “Of course I support a third runway … I don’t think it should be at Chek Lap Kok,” Lok said, saying that Cheung had put “words in my mouth”.

The airport expansion has been dogged by a series of issues, from soaring construction costs – previously set at HK$80 billion and now rising to HK$141.5 billion in four years.

The plan has also been overshadowed by questions over how the city can fully utilise a new runway with a lack of agreement with Beijing over the use of mainland airspace.

Meanwhile, at a seminar organised by pressure group Airport People’s Watch, Guangzhou Civil Aviation College associate professor Qi Qi called for further integration and coordination of aviation around the Pearl River Delta. “If we need to expand [the airspace], a revolutionary innovation is needed for the air traffic management technology,” said Qi.

But the burgeoning expansion of Guangzhou, which will eventually have five runways – is faltering and Qi revealed Guangzhou’s newly operational third runway is used for 10 flights a day, due to severe congestion.

Hong Kong’s Air Line Pilots Association, backed by 2,500 members across the city’s four major airlines, says its support for the third runway is contingent on airspace issues being resolved.

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Third Runway Maths: The Most Expensive in the World?

Hong Kong’s third runway is now reported to be a HK$140B (billion) project. How absurd is this? Let’s compare:

Beijing Capital International Airport – Market Capital HK$32.5B

Unlike Hong Kong International Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport is publicly listed, actually on Hong Kong Stock Exchange ( With HK$140B, we can buy out Beijing’s airport 4 times.

London Heathrow Airport – Valued at HK$60B

There was a 8.65% stake sale of the Heathrow Airport Holdings for GBP392M (million)

in 2013. That would imply a full stake valuation of the airport to be around GBP4.5B (392M / .0865). Even by taking the peak of GDP/HK$ rate in 2013 at around HK$13 (currently HK$11.37), it would only be HK$60B, i.e. we can buy out the Heathrow Airport twice.

Berlin Airport New Runway – HK$32B

Just a few months ago, the scandal-dogged Berlin Airport asked for EUR 3.2B to build a new runway. That would translate to HK$32B, using EUR/HK$ exchange at that time (around HK$10, currently HK$8.23). Despite of potential construction complications due to our unique terrain and environmental consideration, HK$140B allow us building 4 new runways for Berlin. The Germans must envy us for such luxury.

Hong Kong International Airport (The Rose Garden Project) – HK$160B

The Hong Kong International Airport was a US$20B project at that time but note that it was a project comprised 10 core projects including the airport itself (with 2 runways), Tsing Ma Bridge, Western Harbour Crossing, North Lantau Expressway, Route 3 – Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi Sections, West Kowloon Highway, Land Reclamation in West Kowloon, Central Reclamation Phase I, and Phase I of North Lantau New Town. It was practically rebuilding part of HK. Can you imagine an additional runway costs almost the same? Even with inflation adjusted dollar, it doesn’t make sense.

For reference, our current airport has a fixed asset size of around HK$52B. With the miscellaneous supplemental projects built after the initial cutover of the airport, and depreciation/appreciation applied over the years, HK$52B may not exactly represent the proportion of the airport within the Rose Garden total. However, it gives you a sense of how much an airport (including 2 runways) should cost.


It’s going to be privately funded – does it concern me?

Yes, for one thing, whatever debt raised by the Airport Authority will be guaranteed by the Hong Kong government. If the project doesn’t pay back, Hong Kong taxpayers will have to subsidize it later.

Immediately, the Airport Authority is considering the suspension of the around HK$5B/year dividend payment to the Hong Kong government. Local residents ought prepare to shoulder up more taxes to fill in the HK$5B hole, and more directly, to pay more airport tax upcoming.

With the congestion of the two runways now, we have little objection to building a third runway, if the environment is taken into account. However, we should not be robbed. HK$140B is not only unreasonable, but downright robbery by vested interests. Just wonder, is this what the HK$50M paid to CY Leung is for? Or is this another “gift” to Chinese construction companies that will be ultimately given a piece of the pie, and come back later to claim their “love” for Hong Kong without mentioning how much they’ve earned during the process? HongKongers have already been overpaying for water. Now, they want more.

One of our group members foresees that we will end up being made to buy airspace from China in order to fully utilise the third runway. Water and construction are just the beginning. Prepare to be asked for showing more gratitude to the motherland.

FrontlineTechWorkers is formed by a group of IT practitioners with the aim to consolidate voices from IT workers on policy discussion in Hong Kong.