Debate over a third runway at HKIA heats up

20 07 2011

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A 3-month public consultation on the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) Master Plan 2030 is now underway. The Master Plan introduces the possibility of adding an HK$86 billion third runway and related facilities in order to accommodate projected growth in both passenger and cargo in the coming 20 years. Proponents of the runway say that it is critical to supporting the continued economic prosperity of Hong Kong: without expansion of this scope Hong Kong stands to lose its role as a leading aviation hub. Hong Kong’s airport is #1 in cargo traffic and #3 in international passenger traffic in the world, and Cathay Pacific Airways recently became the world’s largest international air-cargo carrier. Critics, on the other hand, voice concern about potential environmental and human health risks stemming from the construction of a third runway. Indeed, a detailed environmental impact assessment has not yet been done. Airport authorities estimate the EIA process will take at least 18 months and cost $100 million HKD. The Master Plan 2030 offers two options: an expanded two-runway system, and the construction of a third runway and related facilities. The former, however, is foreseen as a temporary measure given projected demand. HKIA’s growth forecasts to 2030, which are lower than historical growth, estimate the current airport configuration will reach its runway capacity between 2019 and 2022. If such projections are realized, then absent an additional runway air traffic will have to be slowed, forcing carriers to turn to alternate airports. The Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) sees this as detrimental to Hong Kong’s growth, competitiveness, and ability to generate jobs. “Air connectivity is crucial to maintaining Hong Kong as an international business centre and Asia’s World City,” states the Master Plan 2030. The total economic contribution of aviation in Hong Kong and other businesses at HKIA accounted for 4.6 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP in 2008. The animated public discussion that has been generated from this project is a sign of a healthy, engaged civil society. Such broad-based public discourse will never result in a unanimity of views. It should, however, be inclusive; welcome and address wide-ranging opinions; and reinforce common values for the future of Hong Kong. It is also a logical forum for looking at more strategic issues with regard to Hong Kong’s future development. For example, should environmental issues be assessed on a project-by-project basis, or in the context of the SAR as a whole? Indeed, should the boundaries of the discussion be expanded to include a sustainable growth strategy for the PRD as a whole? These questions go well beyond the scope of the airport expansion – but not beyond the scope of visionary governance and an informed citizenship

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