Hurdles to Growth

Review process begins for Hong Kong Airport expansion

Before they move any earth, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) officials are going to have to move a mountain of paper. The airport has launched the multi-year regulatory approval process needed for a major expansion, one of the most important aviation infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

Built on a 1,250-hectare (4.8-sq.-mi.) man-made island, HKIA was considered an engineering marvel when it was completed in 1998. Now efforts are underway to add another 650 hectares to the north side of the island to accommodate a third parallel runway.

Operations at HKIA will outgrow the current two-runway layout by 2020, according to the airport authority. Demand was originally expected to reach 380,000 aircraft movements a year by 2040. But flights have increased much faster than predicted, and latest estimates are that demand will reach 602,000 operations per year by 2030.

A third runway with associated taxi-ways, aprons, passenger concourses and extensions to existing facilities is expected to cost up to HK$136.2 billion ($17.5 billion) and would open in 2023.

The airport recently began the environmental review process, which will be one of the major regulatory hurdles it must overcome. On May 28, it submitted a project profile to Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department, giving basic details of the development plans and outlining potential environmental effects.

The public has 14 days to comment on the project profile, and then the director of environmental protection will set the scope of the main environmental impact assessment (EIA) study. The EIA process is expected to take two years.

Gaining the environmental permit, developing detailed plans and obtaining final government sign-off on the project is expected to be completed by 2015. Only then can the construction phase begin, and this will likely take eight years.

Cathay Pacific Airways is an enthusiastic supporter of the third runway, which it says is of «critical importance» to the Hong Kong economy. The project is the «only viable option to ensure the long-term competitiveness» of both the airport and Hong Kong itself, says the airline.

Last year, the airport authority outlined two options for HKIA’s future— staying with the current two-runway layout or adding a third. In March of this year, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region gave the airport permission to pursue the third-runway option, opening the way for it to seek the environmental and other regulatory approvals required.

Other developments are also underway at HKIA. A midfield passenger concourse with 20 additional aircraft parking stands will cost HK$10.2 billion and is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Meanwhile, Cathay says it is investing HK$5.7 billion in a cargo terminal that is due to open in early 2013. But the third runway would undoubtedly have the largest long-term impact.

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