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July 16th, 2011:

How much is Airport Authority spending to promote third runway?

South China Morning Post – 16 July 2011

The Airport Authority is obviously prepared to plough every furrow to disseminate its message that it will be the end of civilisation as we know it if its very costly plan to build a third runway is not given the green light.

We are bombarded from morning to night by adverts, commercials, letters to the media and banners lauding the benefits the project will bring to Hong Kong.

However, as Peter Lok Kung-nam, former head of the Civil Aviation Department, rightly pointed out (“Sky-high marketing for runway plan kept secret”, July 3), this media campaign by the authority is being carried out at a cost of millions of dollars to the public purse.

It is only recently that the airport has begun to make a return on the public money invested in its construction – cynics might question if this is coincidental with a new call for funds – and now revenue is being frittered away on an over-the-top promotion campaign.

Not only will the community forfeit substantial dividend returns, but there are also ethical considerations that need to be explored.

Is it acceptable that a publicly funded body spends considerable sums to promote its plans without allocating at least a percentage of the budget to publicise at the same time intelligent and legitimate views on the negative aspects of its plans?

Misuse of public funds is a very sensitive issue at the moment, as the government tries to ram through its proposed legislation to block resignations from the geographical constituencies in the Legislative Council. Its justification is the HK$150 million spent on the midterm “referendum” election that took place last year.

There are many in the community who believe that marketing campaigns like that for the airport and the MTR Corporation’s blitz for the express rail link are an even greater waste of public funds. The taxpayer has a right to know how much has been spent on these publicity drives.

At the same time, if there is not already such a mechanism in place, then there is an urgent need to ensure that the views of the “minority shareholders” are accorded the same rights to media promotion as those of the board, to ensure that the revenues of statutory bodies engaged in commercial activities are spent in an equitable manner.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan

The sky’s the limit

South China Morning Post

Proceeding with the third runway is pointless if nothing is done to increase local airspace capacity

Albert Cheng
Updated on Jul 16, 2011
What lies at the heart of the debate of whether Hong Kong International Airport should build a third runway to keep the city’s position as an international aviation hub is not hardware capacity or airspace boundary; but the airport’s ability to increase aircraft movements.

First and foremost, we must boost our capacity to handle more landings and take-offs to cope with increasing air traffic. Failing to do so would mean falling behind our neighbouring rivals.

In theory, having an extra runway should put the city ahead of other airports and enhance its competitive edge. The runway’s current estimated price tag of HK$136.2 billion, while high, is certainly within Hong Kong’s means. But we should not go ahead with the project unless we are absolutely sure that it is worthwhile.

We are racing against time to meet rapidly rising air traffic demand. Even if we could get the green light to start building the new runway tomorrow, the project would take between eight and 10 years to complete. By then we could be confronted with a new set of problems.

Our priority is airspace capacity. With the nearby Shenzhen airport expanding so rapidly, it is very likely that our airspace capacity will be pushed to the limit in the near future. So, if we do not resolve this issue quickly, we risk being marginalised. In short, having all the additional hardware in place 10 years from now will be pointless if we no longer have the airspace available to match the expansion.

Rapid development in the Pearl River Delta over the past decade has seen growth in its gross domestic product exceed or approach 10 per cent every year, according to mainland statistics.

The International Air Transport Association has found a correlation between GDP growth and an increase in air traffic. With GDP forecast to continue growing in the coming years, passenger traffic is also likely to rise. This means there will be tough competition for airspace in the region.

Hence, it is critically important that our airport takes action to boost its capacity to handle more aircraft movements. On average, Shenzhen airport’s single runway, one of the world’s busiest, handles more than 500 flights per day while Hong Kong’s average is more than 800.

However, we have to bear in mind that a substantial portion of our air traffic goes through the mainland, which means we don’t really have the upper hand when it comes to competing for the allocation of more airspace.

In other words, if we want to get more airspace, we must first make sure we have the additional capacity to fill up the extra quota.

First, we need to maximise our dual-runway system. Instead of permitting one runway for landings and one for departures, we should lift the restriction to optimise usage. Had we applied a bit of flexibility, we could have easily raised aircraft movements to 1,200 per day.

Our capacity crisis is a man-made one more than anything else. A third runway will not solve the problem in the long run if we fail to effectively manage and maximise our resources.