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Airspace deal with mainland over third runway at Chek Lap Lok will not be disclosed

Details of deal with mainland authorities to allow for proposed third runway at ChekLap Lok contains ‘sensitive’ information

The government has refused to disclose details of an agreement with mainland authorities on airspace in the Pearl River Delta, as the controversy into granting a third runway at Chek Lap Kok continues to escalate.

Transport Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the information was being kept confidential because of its “sensitive” details.

“The plan itself set forth various objectives, targets and measures to be implemented until the year 2020,” Cheung said. “The document contains a lot of commercial and strategic sensitivities, so we don’t think it is right for us to just publish the plan.”

Critics of the planned construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok have said airspace in the region is already too congested to accommodate additional flights.

They have urged the government to reveal more about the so-called ‘2007 plan’, which was agreed by aviation officials in Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau after more than a decade of talks aimed at resolving airspace problems.

Former Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying said no one was asking to see the whole agreement.

“What we want to see is the agreed plan showing the airspace allocation to the various parties and the new pattern of flight routes,” said Lam.

He said the specifics should be public information as major airspace changes had to be submitted to the UN’s aviation regulator, as well as pilots and air traffic controllers.

Albert Lam Kwong-yu, the predecessor to incumbent Norman Lo Shung-man as the Civil Aviation Department chief, hinted that he supported Cheung’s decision.

“I am not the best judge to say whether this information is appropriate to disclose or not. Only the one who says so is the best judge,” Lam said.

Another ex-head of the aviation regulator, Peter Lok Kung-nam maintained his opposition to the third runway.

This comes after Cheung said Lok had performed a U-turn and backed the airport expansion. “Of course I support a third runway … I don’t think it should be at Chek Lap Kok,” Lok said, saying that Cheung had put “words in my mouth”.

The airport expansion has been dogged by a series of issues, from soaring construction costs – previously set at HK$80 billion and now rising to HK$141.5 billion in four years.

The plan has also been overshadowed by questions over how the city can fully utilise a new runway with a lack of agreement with Beijing over the use of mainland airspace.

Meanwhile, at a seminar organised by pressure group Airport People’s Watch, Guangzhou Civil Aviation College associate professor Qi Qi called for further integration and coordination of aviation around the Pearl River Delta. “If we need to expand [the airspace], a revolutionary innovation is needed for the air traffic management technology,” said Qi.

But the burgeoning expansion of Guangzhou, which will eventually have five runways – is faltering and Qi revealed Guangzhou’s newly operational third runway is used for 10 flights a day, due to severe congestion.

Hong Kong’s Air Line Pilots Association, backed by 2,500 members across the city’s four major airlines, says its support for the third runway is contingent on airspace issues being resolved.

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