Airlines may deploy flights to whichever cities they deem appropriate, based on market demand and economic return. In fact, the “non-major destinations” in the Mainland only account for less than 2% of the total flight movements at HKIA.
The main reason that Hong Kong has become a strategic aviation hub, an international metropolis and a global business centre is that it has a comprehensive aviation network. It is convenient for both passengers and cargo to come to Hong Kong, and to reach other cities via Hong Kong.
HKIA is the most efficient airport in the world in terms of the average number of passengers and volume of cargo carried per aircraft (workload unit1). In addition, among the world’s top 100 airports by passenger throughput, HKIA has the highest proportion of wide-bodied aircraft at over 62%. In fact, airlines deploy aircraft based on the market situation and airport operators have no right to influence this.
The bottleneck of airport capacity has to do with flight movements on the runways, not ground facilities such as passenger terminals. Currently HKIA handles around 1,100 daily flight movements, which is very close to the two-runway system(2RS)’s maximum runway capacity of 1,200. Expanding the passenger terminal facilities alone cannot ease the airport’s long-term capacity constraints.
“Air wall” is not a precise term, it refers to the boundary between airspaces (or “point of control transfer”), which an aircraft needs to reach a certain altitude before an air traffic control (ATC) unit may hand over control to another ATC unit. The arrangement ensures that aircraft in adjacent airspaces can operate in a safe, efficient manner. It is commonly applied by busy airports all over the world and is not relevant to runway capacity.
The constraints of runway capacity are determined by the time interval and space separation between successive flight movements. In addition, as there is a 10-minute flying distance between the HKIA runway and the “point of control transfer”, the runway operation will therefore not be affected by the requirement of a minimal altitude.
The Tri-partite Working Group between the Hong Kong, Mainland China and Macao aviation authorities has already reached full agreement on how the PRD airspace should be managed to meet the needs of the Greater Pearl River Delta airports, including the 3RS of HKIA. Concrete steps are being undertaken by the authorities to implement all necessary measures to achieve the objective of cancellation of air traffic flow control in 2020.
The third runway is designed for both landing and taking off purposes. However, for reasons of efficiency and environmental protection, the three runways under the 3RS will basically be assigned to function as follows: landings on the northern runway, takeoffs on the central runway, and both landings and takeoffs on the southern runway. This is the most efficient mode of operation, as suggested by an independent consultancy study. In fact, currently the southern runway of the 2RS is mainly used for takeoffs and northern runway for landings.
Building a second airport in Hong Kong is not viable as it will incur high capital costs, and it is difficult to transfer passengers between the two airports.
During the initial planning of HKIA, it was concluded that Chek Lap Kok was the preferred airport site. Even if there are other suitable sites within Hong Kong, it would similarly require substantial land reclamation which is cost prohibitive and would create environmental concerns to more districts in Hong Kong. In addition, very long lead time is needed to plan and construct a second airport. HKIA is edging closer to operating at full capacity. If we do not act fast to expand the existing airport, Hong Kong’s position as an international aviation centre will be jeopardised and its overall competitiveness will be undermined.