HK Airport Says Third Runway Necessary

December 29, 2011

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Airport Authority Hong Kong, operator of the world's busiest air cargo airport, said on Thursday that a proposed third runway with an estimated price tag of USD$17 billion is necessary to keep up with rapid growth in air traffic.

After a three-month public consultation on its Hong Kong International Airport Master Plan 2030, the authority recommended that the government build an additional runway as the two existing runways are forecast to reach capacity by 2020.

"There is a clear consensus on the need to make a decision regarding HKIA's expansion as soon as possible," said AAHK chairman Marvin Cheung in a statement. "It's clear that the majority of those who participated in the consultation prefer the three-runway option."

Hong Kong's government said it had received the airport authority's recommendation and would make a decision in the first quarter of 2012.

"A majority of the people of Hong Kong want to see the timely development of our airport because they realise that apart from travel convenience, the airport is an important part of our economy and for Hong Kong's long-term competitiveness," said secretary for transport and housing Eva Cheng.

The results of the public consultation on the master plan, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, showed 73 percent of respondents favoured the three-runway option and more than 80 percent agreed that the authority should make a decision urgently on airport expansion plan.

Only 11 percent indicated a preference to maintain the two runway system.

The consultation results also showed a clear concern that environmental costs had not been fully addressed and did not provide sufficient information about environmental impact and ways to mitigate that impact.

SOCIAL COST

Construction costs for the third runway including land reclamation are estimated at HKD$136.2 billion (USD$17.5 billion), factoring for inflation, or HKD$86.2 billion in 2010 dollar terms, exceeding even the HKD$55 billion cost of the existing airport facilities, which opened in 1998.

An airport-planning expert said the high comparative cost was mainly attributable to inflation and the decision to use a more environmentally friendly method of land reclamation to minimise seabed disturbance.

The Civic Party, Hong Kong's liberal democratic political party, however, warned that the final cost of the new runway would be higher than the authority's estimate.

"The Hong Kong airport authority produced a handicapped report that is incomplete and does not include social and environmental costs," said Civic Party vice-chairman Albert Lai.

Lai urged the government to carry out a full re-assessment of costs, including environmental pollution, and benefits.

Academics have echoed the Civil Party's reservations.

Law Cheung Kwok, associate director of the Aviation Policy & Research Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said planning and studies for major infrastructure projects should be initiated by the government rather than advocates.

"There are concerns about the cost and environmental impact of the three-runway system," he said. "Hong Kong will need a third runway and that's imperative, but what about building a shorter or narrower one to minimise pollution and costs?"

INDUSTRY SUPPORT

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways, the world's largest air cargo carrier, welcomed the airport authority's recommendation for the runway.

"A third runway is the only viable option to ensure the long-term competitiveness of Hong Kong as an important international financial centre, trading and logistics hub, tourism destination, and professional services capital," Cathay's chief executive John Slosar said in a statement.

Hong Kong overtook Memphis in 2010 as the world's busiest air cargo hub on the back of strong import and export growth in China, especially the Pearl River Delta region. The airport ranked third worldwide in terms of international passenger flows in 2010 after London and Paris.

There are five major airports around the greater Pearl River Delta -- Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, of which four have announced or are looking into expansion plans.

(Reuters)