Big runways don’t come cheap, and LegCo has to approve the tab. That isn’t going to be easy.
As a regional hub, Hong Kong’s international airport processes millions of passengers every year. The government is pushing ahead the three-runway system (the 3RS) to boost the airport’s capacity, despite criticism from some lawmakers and environmentalists.
The infrastructure project is expected to be completed by 2022, and the estimated construction cost reaches a whopping $141.5 billion.
Last Wednesday, the government requested funding of $8 billion from the LegCo to build a new air traffic control tower, fire stations and weather monitoring systems, as well as the purchase of air navigation service equipment and fire services vehicles.
The government justifies the need by claiming that the existing air traffic control towers are far from the new third runway, and a new tower is needed for air traffic controllers to see clearly for monitoring movements.
Some lawmakers, however, seem reluctant to approve the funding. Michael Tien of Roundtable cites a lack of evidence that the 3RS would have the capacity of 102 movements per hour, its stated target processing time.
Raymond So, Under Secretary for Transport and Housing, argues the funding is needed not just by the Civil Aviation Department, but also the Observatory and Fire Services Department.
The government has been stressing the importance of the 3RS, saying it is “to meet the growing air traffic demand and maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness as an international and regional aviation hub”.
“The 3RS project will bring additional economic benefits of $455 billion over a 50-year period and additional employment opportunities of 80,000 direct and indirect or induced jobs, which represent a substantial contribution to the Hong Kong economy in the long term,” the government says.
But ever since 3RS project was approved in 2015, it has received fierce criticism, with critics arguing it won’t serve its purpose if the airspace conflict between Hong Kong and Shenzhen remains unsolved.
“Due to the proximity among the airports in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau, some flight paths of the Third Runway would need to cross the low-altitude airspace of Shenzhen,” says a report by local environmental group Green Sense.
“In particular, the “North-westward Departure Route” of the central runway and the “Missed Approach track” of the northern runway would clash with the busy “South-westward Landing Route” of the Shenzhen International Airport in low-altitude airspace.”
The group says it remains a dilemma, as article 130 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law would be violated anyhow.
“The three-runway airspace conflicts could only result in two scenarios – Shenzhen and Hong Kong sharing airspace, or China-Hong Kong airspace being administered by one air traffic control unit,” says Roy Tam, chief executive of Green Sense.
Environmental implications are another reason why many oppose to the project. There have been concerns over conservation of the dolphins in the area, as the third runway will intensify the environmental damage of high-speed ferry traffic and other infrastructure projects.
On Monday, the nightmare came true – a Chinese white dolphin was found dead within the construction area of the 3RS, making it the first potential victim of the project.
The news has stirred outcry among the green groups in the city, but it is unlikely to have any impact on the 3RS project, as the government is determined to go ahead with the project.
Anthony Cheung, while serving as the Secretary for Transport and Housing, said in 2015 that the third runway was urgently needed even then.
“It’s not about whether or when we should build it. It’s how we can build it,” he said.
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