Hong Kong International Airport, the world’s busiest cargo hub, will get a third runway.

Business widely welcomed the Hong Kong Government’s decision to construct a third runway for the city’s airport. Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng announced last month that the Airport Authority of Hong Kong (AAHK) will proceed with an environmental impact assessment, and plan design details and financial arrangements. Ms Cheng emphasised the need for long-term airport planning, as air traffic in 2011 reached the forecast demand for 2013.

The Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) last year welcomed a record 53.9 million passengers and handled 333,760 aircraft movements last year, up 5.9 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively, year-on-year. Although cargo performance decreased 4.6 per cent, to 3.9 million tonnes, reflecting the global slowdown, this followed a 16.5 per cent increase from a year earlier. The HKIA remains the world’s busiest cargo gateway, a title it wrested from Memphis International Airport, the FedEx hub, in 2010. The HKIA has been the world’s busiest international cargo airport since 1996. Now it is the busiest overall.

“Airlines will have the room they need to grow here, bringing jobs and prosperity,” said Mark Whitehead, Managing Director, Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd (Hactl). “The density of aircraft movements can be maintained at safe levels, and the avoidance of air traffic congestion will reduce the impact on the environment.”

He added that the global air-freight market, and the regional market in particular, is expected to grow by “leaps and bounds” over the next two decades. He said a third runway would allow the HKIA to meet the volume increases and retain its status as the world’s number-one air cargo hub.

Hactl invested more than US$1 billion constructing its SuperTerminal 1 facility at the HKIA in 1998. The company handles some 70 per cent of general air cargo movement in Hong Kong, with an annual throughput of almost three million tonnes.

“Connectivity with the rest of the world has made Hong Kong what it is today, so we must be clear on how we can maintain and grow these links,” said John Slosar, Cathay Pacific Airways Chief Executive. “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 Pacific itself is making significant investments to underscore its commitment to Hong Kong, its home hub. This includes more than 90 new aircraft on order for delivery up to the end of the decade, with a list price of some HK$190 billion, a HK$5.7 billion cargo terminal that is scheduled to open in early 2013, and more than HK$3 billion in new products to give more people a reason to fly to and through Hong Kong. Mr Slosar said Cathay Pacific will also hire staff to match this growth, with plans for about 1,000 more cabin crew, 300 pilots and 600 ground staff this year. 

Dragonair Chief Executive Officer Patrick Yeung agreed that the third runway is a crucial step in enabling the airport to meet anticipated growth and for Hong Kong to maintain its position as Asia’s premier aviation hub. 

“We believe that Hong Kong, as a whole, will benefit from the enhanced capacity in our home hub, boosting the development of the aviation industry, which makes such a significant contribution to the city’s economy.”

Dragonair recently announced its own expansion plans in light of growing demand and rising passenger expectations, with additional aircraft joining the fleet, a strengthened network, and the recruitment of more cabin crew and pilots.

“The increase in capacity at HKIA will enable us to grow in parallel with the aviation industry in Hong Kong, helping to boost the prosperity and well-being of Hong Kong people in the long run,” Mr Yeung said.

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce Chairman Anthony Wu said the decision would benefit Hong Kong’s trade, tourism and logistics sectors. “The construction of the third runway will safeguard Hong Kong’s status as an aviation hub, and enhance the city’s competitiveness.”

Stanley Hui, CEO of the AAHK, said the authority was committed to full compliance with the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process “and will explore every possible way to avoid, minimise and mitigate any environmental impact that might arise from developing into a three-runway system, including marine ecology, fisheries, water quality, air quality, noise and waste."

The environmental assessment, expected to take two years, will consider marine ecology, noise and air quality. Earlier, the AAHK pledged to undertake air quality studies under the EIA process by benchmarking against the proposed new Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) announced by the government.

"We do not underestimate the challenges ahead, and we are committed to approaching our upcoming work in a highly prudent, transparent and professional manner as always, working closely with all stakeholders along the way," added Mr Hui.

 A three-month public consultation on the HKIA Master Plan 2030, undertaken last summer, revealed that 73 per cent of respondents preferred the three-runway option.  The runway is expected to be completed by 2023.

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