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PLA firing range poses a threat to planes using Hong Kong’s proposed third runway

Danny Lee

Planes performing emergency manoeuvres will have to avoid two major obstructions

A firing range used by the PLA and police poses a hazard to planes that would use the third runway at Chek Lap Kok, a government source has told the Post.

A plane approaching the runway needs a certain amount of airspace in case it needs to abort the landing at the last minute.

Frequent firing by troops at the Castle Peak site, which sits under an escape-route flight path earmarked for the planned new runway, threatens to reduce such airspace and limit the number of planes that can land.

The skies above Castle Peak are designated a no-fly zone under 914 metres during security exercises, which are often held from Monday to Friday throughout the year. Planes will have to climb much steeper to avoid the no-fly zone, increasing the risk of the manoeuvre.


Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the government’s airport consultants, recommended relocating the firing range, known as “Danger Zone 5”, in 2008. They said the third runway would risk being little used otherwise.

A Civil Aviation Department source said the government remained open to its consultant’s warning and that the firing range could be moved before the third runway was completed – but this would mean the PLA having to cede control of a key resource.

“The missed approach procedure [aborting the landing] has been operating smoothly since its implementation and an effective communication mechanism is also in place with the firing zone and the PLA,” the source said. “We are considering all possible options and will take necessary action during detailed procedure design.”

However, the department’s official response insisted it would comply with UN aviation safety rules when planning the third runway and that Hong Kong’s existing two runways managed to operate aborted landings above the danger zone “safely and efficiently at all times”.

But the consultants say there is not enough space for planes to safely climb over Castle Peak and the firing range with the third runway in place. If a jet attempted to fly above the firing range, it would need to climb at a minimum gradient of more than 10 per cent, which NATS branded as “operationally unacceptable”.

Seven per cent is considered the maximum limit.

In a worst-case scenario, aircraft aborting a landing would enter the firing range at a height as low as 526 metres.

“If NATS says it has to be addressed, it has to be, otherwise that [escape] procedure cannot be used, which will affect the airport capacity,” said former department chief Albert Lam Kwong-yu. “But first the PLA must agree to remove it.”

Castle Peak, at 583 metres, is itself a concern, particularly as a broadcasting tower atop the mountain extends it to 590 metres. Consultants said the tower would need to be removed.

Michael Mo Kwan-tai, the spokesman for the Airport Development Concern Network, said the newly created missedapproach flight path “is clearly very close to” to the danger zone.

“The broadcast tower would become a threat if the firing zone isn’t relocated,” Mo said, because planes would have to avoid two major obstructions in close proximity. A senior air traffic controller in Hong Kong said: “I can’t see how the firing range survives.”

Consultants carved out the escape route after assuming airspace would be merged with the Pearl River Delta and the firing range would be deactivated.

Planes landing on the third runway from the west are projected to have to pivot hard left and follow a missed-approach path that squeezes between Castle Peak and the danger zone.

The Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association warned that older aircraft were not capable of such manoeuvres.

The PLA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Source URL (modified on Apr 13th 2015, 8:10am):

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