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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.

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