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Sky-high marketing for runway plan kept secret

Former aviation chief says the public has a right to know what is being done with taxpayers’ money
Lana Lam 
Jul 03, 2011
The transparency of the Airport Authority is in question after the statutory body refused to reveal the marketing budget for its controversial third runway plan.

Peter Lok Kung-nam, who headed the Civil Aviation Department from 1990 to 1996, said Hong Kong people had the right to know how much was being spent on marketing “since they are using public money”.

The authority is wholly owned by the government and operates under the Airport Authority Ordinance.

Lok said the authority was jumping the gun by pouring millions of dollars into producing 21 videos that all supported the expansion plan. He estimated the production cost of the videos would “be in the millions” because “videos take ages to create, even just one minute”.

“[But] you are dealing with airports so this amount of money is peanuts,” he said.

“I’m not surprised … but it’s premature,” he said of the videos which feature high-profile personalities such as Cathay Pacific (SEHK:0293) chief executive John Slosar, transport sector lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee, Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman, Hollywood director John Woo Yu-sen and actor and Canto-pop singer Aarif Rahman.

The videos echo the sentiment in the authority’s written documents which state that Hong Kong’s overall competitiveness as a world city would be at risk if the third runway plan does not go ahead.  An authority spokeswoman refused to disclose the amount spent on the videos or reveal the name of the company that won a tender for the project. She also refused to reveal the total budget of the marketing strategy for the authority’s 2030 master plan which includes roving exhibitions, public forums and advertisements on TV and billboards.

She did confirm that all the interviewees appeared “on a voluntary basis at no cost to us”. The videos are currently screening on more than 100 monitors throughout the airport.  The authority has not spent any money on producing equivalent videos featuring local personalities who do not want the third runway.

One video production company in North Point provided a conservative quote for a half-day of filming for one video at HK$12,000, so 21 videos would total about HK$250,000.

Lok, who supports a third runway, but not at the existing site, said he was not surprised that the videos only presented one side of the argument and he criticised the authority for hiding vital information about the feasibility of the third runway plan.

“If you look at the technical report, there is a caveat laid down that this scheme requires very extensive revision with Pearl River Delta airspace which we share with several other airports,” he said. “To develop and implement the changes, we need to confer with Macau and mainland authorities. “If you fail to get their consensus, there’s no point talking about how much it’s going to cost or if it’s cost-effective. They have never mentioned this caveat in all the publicity, which I think is rather immoral.”

In documents for the master plan, the authority states its intention to ensure a “transparent, professional and objective planning process”.

Questions the Post sent to the authority on the spending several times last week went unanswered and at a public forum on the master plan yesterday, Howard Eng Kiu-chor, executive director of airport operations, did not take questions from the media.

” Sung believes too that what officials fear most is an environmental impact assessment unfavorable to the project.

The airport opened in July 1998. Seventy billion dollars of public and private money went for terminals, runways, taxiways, bays and ancillary facilities.

Another HK$34 billion went into the airport railway, and billions more on bridges, tunnels and expressways to make the Lantau site  accessible.

The all- in cost was HK$155 billion.”

” The diversification of firms such as Foxconn and the consequent drop in air cargo have taken place therefore mainly at the Hong Kong International Airport, and it probably explains the monthly declines in cargo turnover in April and May this year. If this truly is the case and the decline is structural instead of seasonal, one should expect further declines in air cargo shipments in the coming months and perhaps even years.  It may become a long-term declining trend if the metropolitanization process in the PRD region turns it into a service economy instead, thereby forcing most of the manufacturing activities to shift to places further away from the core areas of Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Thus Hong Kong’s airport will lose the local industry’s demand for air cargo freight from the region forever.

Hong Kong has to find new sources of demand to sustain its current operations and the new runway beyond the next 12 years. Even so, the competition will be very acute because of the large increase in capacity in the regional cluster of airports. Thus late expansion of the airport in Hong Kong is running counter to any conventional wisdom.

The author is head of China Business Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. ” Hong Kong  China Daily

More studies demanded on third runway impact By Joseph Li (HK Edition) Updated: 2011-06-18 06:45

“Besides, the report does not take into account carbon emissions by vehicles passing by the airport’s vicinity, including Tung Chung and North Lantau, Choi said.

Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said the authority has attempted to dismiss the impacts on the Chinese White Dolphins by modifying the document on dolphin movements that he had prepared for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.  The authority management finally apologized to the green groups. The environment groups responded that the authority should apologize to the public for having misled the people of Hong Kong.  ”

Emissions from aircraft will grow (Letters Page)

The 2 per cent aviation emissions figure Cathay Pacific  Mark Watson cites (“Aviation industry is committed to addressing climate change impact”, June 20) in response to my letter (“Emissions accelerating, not declining”, June 13) differ from the 3-3.5 per cent cited by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) website.

The ICAO’s projected aircraft emissions growth of 3-4 per cent per year contrasts with Mr Watson’s planned halving of emissions by 2050. In 38 years, a 3.5 per cent exponential growth will quadruple, not halve, current emissions: 628 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually will become 2,512 million tonnes. Because aircraft engines release CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates into the stratosphere, their impact is amplified. Current contrail-generated cirrus clouds insulate the atmosphere adding an independent warming effect greater than all previous aircraft CO2/NOX emissions since we began flying. Also, the 70 per cent of improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency has already been achieved. To “radically reduce” that remaining 30 per cent of emissions is technically increasingly difficult.

Any future efficiency improvements are offset by the doubling of flights projected by the Airport Authority……………… I quote: “HK’s GDP forecast at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.4 per cent” (GDP doubles in 20 years); “Mainland’s CAGR at 7 per cent” (an unrealistic quadruple GDP increase over 38 years); “Air traffic demand doubling by 2030”, coincidentally, a 3.5 per cent annualised growth in demand. Where is this growth to come from? Cheap extractable oil, without which these growth projections are unfeasible, is almost exhausted.   If the authority’s growth projections are correct, aircraft emissions will rise exponentially, making climate change a major problem – or Peak Oil will terminate the 20th century infinite-economic-growth/business-as-usual model, making flying prohibitively expensive, thereby killing demand. Thus, a third runway either adds to climate change or is redundant.

Richard Fielding, Pok Fu Lam

Flyertalk discussion on the HK airport 3rd runway

“The PRD region also does not have sufficient ‘air corridors’ for aircraft to fly en-route from one airspace to another. All these limitations plus the complex operating environment of PRD region have significantly reduced the flight operational efficiency and capacity in the rapid growing PRD region. According to the forecast by CAAC, the PRD region will experience around 200 million passenger with 1.76 million aircraft movement per annum by 2020. This is about three times as much as the current figures [CAAC, 2007]. The airports in the PRD have altogether 7 runways, with considerations to add 4 to 5 more in the foreseeable future. However, more runways do not necessarily provide more capacity if the airspace congestion issue cannot be solved. Furthermore, the military plays a significant role in the arrangement of airspace in China. In fact, any change in the civil airspace requires the approval of

the military. Figure 2 summarized the major issues of the PRD airspace congestion.”

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