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Resolving airspace issues key to success of Hong Kong’s third runway

Authorities have cleared the air about whether Hong Kong International Airport will have a third runway, the Executive Council having given it the green light and details of how it will be financed released. The HK$141.5 billion project is a necessity for development, ensuring that predicted increased numbers of travellers and volume of cargo will be able to effortlessly move in and out of our city. While a court challenge by environmentalists could cause a delay and funding from loans and bonds has to be secured, work can now begin in earnest on turning plans into reality. One major matter remains unresolved, though: the use of mainland airspace.

More than a decade of talks by a working group of aviation officials from Hong Kong, Guangdong, Shenzhen and Macau have failed to resolve airspace problems. Congestion is a long-standing issue in southern China’s skies, in part due to demand, but also because of People’s Liberation Army control and restrictions. Even if there are no military exercises along a flight path, planes from Hong Kong entering mainland airspace have to first circle to 4,300 metres. The consequences, beyond increased flight times, delays and bigger fuel costs for airlines, is an inability to maximise runway usage.

That raises doubts about whether the new runway can be fully utilised; Guangzhou’s recently opened third one has added just 10 flights a day. The planned airstrip will lift the limit at Chek Lap Kok from 68 flights an hour to an anticipated 102, but that will depend on resolution of outstanding problems. Authorities are confident issues will be resolved within five years, although they have not given reasons for their optimism.

If construction work on the runway and associated facilities begins next year, the runway will be ready for use in 2023. Hong Kong cannot afford significant delays; the airport’s two runways are already handling 66 flights an hour during peak periods, leaving little space for extra capacity. Airport Authority projections foresee that by 2030, our city will be receiving almost 30 per cent more passengers a year to 90 million and at least a doubling of cargo to nine million tonnes. Opportunities and revenue will be lost if time is needlessly wasted.

Working closely with aviation authorities in the Pearl River Delta region has to be a priority. Talks on joint airspace planning, use of common standards and design of flight procedures have to stay on track. Without agreements, Hong Kong’s third runway risks becoming a white elephant project.

Source URL (modified on Mar 20th 2015, 1:05am):

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