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Runway may be a waste of money, expert says

South China Morning Post — 6 June 2011

Chek Lap Kok plan needs to address problem of crowded airspace over Pearl River Delta region

A new airport runway will not help relieve congestion because much of the problem stems from restrictive use of civilian flight routes over the Pearl River Delta region, an aviation expert warned.

Dr Law Cheung-kwok, associate director of Chinese University’s Aviation Policy and Research Centre, said a third runway could be a waste of money unless the problem of crowded airspace in the delta region is resolved.

He also said the Airport Authority could consider building a shorter runway to save money.

At yesterday’s RTHK City Forum, Law urged Hong Kong to discuss with Beijing more efficient use of airspace. “If not, there is no use having more runways,” he said.

China’s airspace is mainly controlled by the military, with civilian flights allowed to operate only on limited routes and at limited altitudes. Hong Kong’s airspace is not under the Chinese military control, but many flights still pass over the mainland.

The Airport Authority last week launched a three-month public consultation on plans to expand the Chek Lap Kok airport to cope with future needs.

One option calls for building of a third, parallel runway north of the existing two at a cost of about HK$136 billion. A cheaper option is to upgrade the existing two runways, costing HK$42.5 billion.

Law recently returned from a study trip to Frankfurt and revealed a fourth runway is being built there for under HK$10 billion. He said Hong Kong, like Frankfurt, could build a shorter, 2,800-metre runway instead of a standard 3,800-metre runway.

He added: “It should be long enough because about a third of flights using the Hong Kong airport are short-haul or domestic flights to and from China.

“There is no need for these small planes to use a long runway.”

An authority executive director Wilson Fung Wing-yip argued it was value for money because it could generate HK$900 billion in economic benefits over 50 years.

Legislator Raymond Ho Chung-tai, also an authority board member, argued short-haul visitors from the mainland would turn to taking high-speed trains to Hong Kong and that the city should focus on catering for international flights.

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