By Vanni Gibertini
Hong Kong Airport Readies Third Runway Despite Lack Of Traffic
While the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected passenger demand during the past two years, airports around the world had to adjust their masterplans to cope with the drop in traffic while still maintaining the investments level to improve their facilities in line with their long-term growth outlook.
One of the airports that has seen most of its traffic evaporate since the beginning of the health emergency in 2020 is Hong Kong International Airport. In 2019, the airport of this Chinese Special Administrative Region with a unique history, status and economic profile had seen more than 71.4 million passengers transit through its facilities. In 2021 that number had fallen to just 1.3 million, a 98.2% drop, with visitors for the first three months for 2022 reaching only 11,490 units.
Three-Runway System Project
Nonetheless, Hong Kong International Airport has been continuing its Three-Runway System (3RS) project that is planning to expand the airport to include a third 3,800-meter-long runway and a brand-new Terminal 2 and a 650-hectare extension to the man-made island that was created to host the. The project began in 2016 with a budget of HK$141.5 billion ($18 billion) and saw the new runway being cleared for use last Thursday after meeting all the requirements set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the South China Morning Post reported.
HKIA is confirming that the runway, together with the ground light guiding system that links it to the rest of the airport, will open by the end of the year and the entire project, which includes a new Terminal 2, an automated People Mover and a new baggage handling system, is going to be completed by 2024 on time and on budget.
However, the very tight restrictions that are stifling traffic in an out of Hong Kong due to the Chinese Government’s policy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic are making recovery extremely difficult for the Special Administrative Region. While traffic in other parts of the world is approaching 2019 levels and other hubs in Asia, including rival Singapore, are re-opening to international traffic, Hong Kong is still unable to make plans on how to regain the role it had as a Southern Asia aviation and business center.
“Hong Kong is Off the Aviation Map”
During a press briefing at the beginning of the month, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said that Hong Kong has lost the role it used to have in aviation, Singapore’s Business Times reported. “It’s effectively off the map now, and I think it’s going to be difficult for Hong Kong to recover,” Walsh said. “It’s going to lag significantly behind the recovery that we’re seeing elsewhere and has led to a tough time for all airlines operating there. The restrictions there have been very severe and have led directly to the cancellation of a lot of services with airlines – effectively finding it incredibly difficult, if not impossible to operate there.”
Hong Kong has recently halved the quarantine time required for arriving passengers to 1 week, however with most Western countries dropping testing or quarantine for fully vaccinated passengers this measure does not appear to go far enough to sustain recovery.