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Open minds could find more creative solutions for third airport runway

SCMP – 6 April 2012

I share Richard Fielding’s concern that “a third runway will do nothing to relieve crowding in the airspace over the Pearl River estuary”, which is but a side issue in his letter (“Third runway lobby ignoring serious environmental impact of growth”, March 29).

Indeed, by requiring an extension of Hong Kong’s airspace both north and west into the airspace over the Pearl River estuary to make the third runway workable, it will add much to the crowding and increase the complexity in airspace management there.

It will in turn add considerably to the workload and complexity of operations for Hong Kong’s airspace management. I refer to the near-collision between two aircraft on September 18, 2011 [waiting to land at the airport].

So far, the case presented to the public for adding a third runway to Chek Lap Kok has addressed only the simplistic number-crunching side of it but not the above problem, which is not so simple to quantify.

Even then, it begs the question of how soon a fourth runway will be required and where there is physical room for it.

If there is no room for it, and the third runway will not be operational until at least 2023 anyway, why not build an all-new three-runway airport elsewhere, with the room for straightforward growth to a fourth or even a fifth runway?

The third runway does not have to be at the Shenzhen airport (linked to Chek Lap Kok by fast rail) although it does seem like a more viable option than building one at Hong Kong airport, if all factors are taken into consideration. And it has been reported that London is considering connecting Heathrow with Gatwick by fast rail to make them function like one airport.

The section in Chapter 2 of the Airport Authority’s Master Plan 2030 technical report, titled “Relying on Neighbouring Airports is Not an Option”, dismisses it so feebly that it reads like thinking inside a self-created political box.

The air-services-agreement implication it is premised on would surely fall away if Beijing would simply deem such an already existing “third Hong Kong runway” at Shenzhen airport a part of Hong Kong. It is, after all, “one country”.

I am so glad the Executive Council is unlikely to make a final decision until 2015.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

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