Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

November 4th, 2015:

Making lots of noise about operation of Hong Kong’s airport


Jake Van Der Kamp

The Airport Authority may increase take-offs at night to tackle a looming capacity crunch at Chek Lap Kok before a third runway is built …

Do you remember being told just before our new airport opened that the harbour would be its new noise channel?

Here we thought that one big plus of having a new airport far off on the northern shore of Lantau Island was that we would no longer have to put up with the noise of aircraft taking off from the old Kai Tak airport right in the centre of the harbour area.

It was certainly so if you lived on that side of the harbour and could mark the passage of time every few minutes with the thought of “There goes another one”. If you lived further west along the harbour you hardly heard it.

And then along came the Airport Authority with a message that, with the sugar coating removed: “Guess what, now you’re going to hear it all the time, and louder too, and everywhere along the harbour. That’s the new approach and take-off path.”

Civic governments elsewhere move airports out of town to get away from the noise. We moved ours out of town to get right under the noise.

They could have told us when the airport was in the feasibility stage as they already knew then where that approach path would have to go. But they didn’t.

They waited until the very last minute and then just sort of leaked it out – “Oh sorry, forgot to tell you, can’t imagine why we didn’t tell you earlier.”

Well, I can imagine. It is because our airport authority has long sold itself out to that cabal of airlines, hotelkeepers and retail landlords that calls itself the tourism industry and feels it has the right to inflict any cost or inconvenience on us for the sake of a so-called pillar industry that brings the narrow cabal a great deal and the rest of us very little.

The Airport Authority does not really serve us. It serves the greater glory of the airport, that is when it is not making ritual obeisance to the tourism industry. We are the sacrifices of this cult.

The airport’s accounts show it. Fully 92 per cent of its pre-tax earnings last year came from retail leases and other terminal commercial operations plus airport investment ventures in mainland China. The airlines use the airport at cost, a nice gift from the Hong Kong taxpayers who paid for building the whole thing.

The Airport Authority has taken such good care of the airlines, in fact, that the landing and parking charges it levies on them are now 15 per cent lower, yes, lower, than they were in 1998 when the airport was opened.

This was done despite the fact that it had on hand an independent study by a reputable British air traffic consultant, Leigh Fisher, that our airport’s charges were far lower than worldwide counterparts, the 54th lowest of 55 international airports covered.

As an inadvertently leaked paper from the deputy projects director also showed three years ago, the new airport runs about 57 per cent more flights than the old airport at Kai Tak used to do for the same number of passengers.

Congestion made Kai Tak disciplined about serving secondary mainland cities with smaller aircraft. That discipline went by the board at the new airport. In fact, the Airport Authority pitched mainland cities for more small aircraft business.

And then they turned around and pitched us for what will probably be nearly HK$200 billion for a third runway to handle the increase in passenger and cargo traffic.

They tell us that it can be paid for internally through an extra levy on passengers and cargo. But in order to raise the project finance they will of course also need a government guarantee. The taxpayer goes on the hook again.

I shall be very surprised if the first economic downturn that comes round won’t have them coming back to say that a guarantee is not enough and taxpayer cash will also have to be added to the mix.

And now they tell us that they want to keep us awake at night because we have not approved the third runway idea quickly enough.

China has ‘duty to humanity’ to curb pollution, premier says

Li Keqiang says Chinese economic model is ‘unsustainable’ and it must cut energy use, but does not outline specific measures

China has used up too much energy and too many resources in its quest for growth, premier Li Keqiang has told visiting French president François Hollande, adding that the country has a “duty to humanity” to clean itself up.

Li’s comments come ahead of a UN climate summit in Paris, which will seek to unite all the world’s nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change.

Hollande said in a radio interview the summit’s success was “possible, not certain”, with some issues still to be settled.

As the world’s largest polluter, China will be a key player at the event, in the face of disputes over whether developed or developing countries should bear more of the burden for reducing emissions.

Li said more environmentally-friendly development would be “obligatory” for China to “promote a restructuring of its national economy”, currently experiencing its slowest growth in years.

The shift was China’s “duty and a contribution to humanity” as one of the world’s largest countries, he added.

China’s decades-long boom, which has propelled it to global prominence, largely depended on heavy industry, real estate and infrastructure investment. But growth has slowed in recent years and now stands at its lowest since the global financial crisis, according to official figures.

“For a great many years, we consumed too much energy and resources to achieve our development, and this model has since become unsustainable,” Li said, adding that China must now rely more on developing its human resources.

But he did not cite any specific measures it would take.

On Monday China and France issued a joint declaration on climate change saying that the Paris accord – intended to cap warming at two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels – should include checks for compliance.

Each signatory’s progress should be reviewed every five years, the statement said, to “build mutual trust and confidence and promote effective implementation”.

Hollande called the declaration a “historic” step forward, and on Tuesday, the final day of his two-day trip, urged Beijing to “discuss with and convince a number of countries known to be vital” to the negotiation process.

“When China is committed, it of course commits itself, but it is an example, a benchmark.”

In comments to Europe1 radio during his visit to China, Hollande said there “are still a few issues that have to be settled” before the Paris talks.

“Yes, failure is still possible, but today I am confident,” he said.

The UN summit, held from 30 November 30 to 11 December, will be opened by world leaders, including US president Barack Obama, China’s Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi of India.

Hollande said it was encouraging that major emitters such as China and the United States, as well as developing nations, were all deeply engaged in the notoriously combative negotiating process.

Asked if he thought the conference would be a success, he said: “It is possible, not certain.”

Among the key points still in dispute, he cited $100bn (€91bn) in annual climate finance that rich nations had promised for developing countries from 2020.

Some $65bn has been secured and another $20bn promised, said Hollande, but “we are not yet at $100bn”.

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said a total of $62bn was paid in climate aid in 2014.

Rich nations say this indicates progress towards the $100bn goal for 2020, while developing countries say the figure is not a useful measure.

China is an important member of the largest negotiating bloc, the G77 group of developing nations, which insists that rich nations must bear more responsibility for cutting emissions since they have been polluting for longer.

Developed nations point the finger, in turn, at emerging giants such as China and India, which burn massive amounts of fossil fuel to power their fast-growing economies and populations.

Research on low carbon transport in Hong Kong

Download (PDF, 212KB)

Download (PDF, 306KB)