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LCQ11: Air traffic in the Pearl River Delta region

     Following is a question by the Hon Miriam Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, at the Legislative Council meeting today (January 20):

Question :

     Some members of the aviation industry have relayed to me that air routes and airspace open for civil aviation in the Pearl River Delta ("PRD") region are insufficient, and with four other airports (including Macao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai) within 65 kilometres of Hong Kong, the flights on many air routes have to make an additional detour or fly to a certain flight level to ensure safety, which has not only increased the flight time, but has also resulted in flight delays from time to time. They have indicated that with the rapid growth in the aviation industry and an increasing number of flights, the problem of air traffic congestion in the airspace over the PRD region will become more serious and will affect Hong Kong's air transport volume. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council :

(a)  of the respective numbers of departure and arrival flights in Hong Kong in each of the past three years which, because of air traffic flow control by the mainland authorities and air traffic congestion in the airspace over the PRD region, had to either circle in the air after not being allowed to land or wait on the apron for a long time before being allowed to take off, and were thus delayed, as well as their respective percentages in the total number of departure and arrival flights in Hong Kong during the corresponding period;

(b)  given that the Civil Aviation Department ("CAD") has introduced new air routes since October 22 last year, and has shortened the arrival routes for flights from west and north of Hong Kong to help save fuel consumption, of the number of arrival flights which had used the new air routes since their introduction, and the major countries from which such flights departed; whether it has assessed the additional air transport volume to be brought to Hong Kong by the new air routes; and

(c)  of the latest result and progress in the optimisation of regional airspace design, improvement to the allocation of flight levels, standardisation of interface protocols and standards of air traffic control facilities and increase in air routes for civil aviation between the PRD region and the northern and eastern parts of the Mainland since the establishment of the PRD Air Traffic Management Implementation Working Group by CAD, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China and the Macao Civil Aviation Authority in February 2004, as well as what medium and long-term work plans it has to increase the runway capacity and air transport volume of Hong Kong's airport?



(a)  In the past 3 years, the numbers of departure flights delayed on the apron at the Hong Kong International Airport ("HKIA") due to air traffic flow control by the Mainland authorities are tabulated below:

Year     Total number of      Number of departure
         departure flights    flights delayed (%)

2007       148,645              2,409 (1.62)
2008       151,327              2,114 (1.40)
2009       140,332              2,045 (1.46)
Total      440,304              6,568 (1.49)

     On arrival flights departing from Mainland airports, these flights constitute about 12% of the total arrival flights of the HKIA. Air traffic flow control by the Mainland authorities would mainly affect these flights in that the departure time of the flights might be delayed, but the Civil Aviation Department ("CAD") does not have the statistics on flights actually delayed due to flow control.

     Given the need for the Pearl River Delta ("PRD") airspace to cater for the operating capacities of five airports, there are certain limitations in the design of the air routes to ensure flight safety. These include the requirement for some flights (mainly those arriving from the Mainland) to detour a certain distance before they can land at the HKIA. Apart from the over-crowdedness of the PRD airspace, flight operations to and from Hong Kong are also affected by other factors such as weather and the geographical environment of Hong Kong. It is therefore difficult to quantify in simple terms the impact of over-crowdedness of the PRD airspace on the flight operations in Hong Kong (including possible flight delays).

(b)  Commencing on October 22, 2009, CAD implemented new air routes which shortened the travelling distance for arrival aircraft from the west and the north of Hong Kong. Since then, each flight coming to Hong Kong from the Mainland, South East Asia and Europe has been able to save up to about 210 km in flight journey or 14 minutes in flight time. Based on the traffic figures in the first quarter of 2009, it is estimated that the new routes can save a total of more than 10 million km in flight journey or 12,000 hours in flight time for arrival aircraft each year. With an average of about 150 flights per day using the new routes, the routes benefit about 8 million passengers annually.

     To increase the air traffic capacity requires complementary measures including those on airspace, air traffic control procedures and systems. The above-mentioned shortened air routes aim primarily at shortening the flight journey and flight time of aircraft and do not directly help to increase the runway capacity or air transport capacity of our airport.  

(c)  The PRD Air Traffic Management Planning and Implementation Working Group ("the Working Group") was established by CAD of Hong Kong, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the Macao Civil Aviation Authority in 2004. So far 15 meetings have been held to discuss measures to enhance the PRD airspace.
     Through the concerted efforts of the three sides, an additional handover point and a corresponding air route have been established between the Guangzhou and Hong Kong Flight Information Regions since end 2006 to cater for flights overflying Hong Kong and landing in Guangzhou. The airspace of the Zhuhai Terminal Area is also planned to undergo reorganisation and expansion within this year to facilitate the flow of air traffic in the region.

     To resolve the issue of airspace over-crowdedness in the long run, the Working Group has formulated an integrated plan based on the principles of joint airspace planning, use of common standards and harmonised flight procedure design. To improve airspace planning and air traffic management in the region, the plan encompasses various measures to rationalise airspace design, enhance flight levels distribution, standardise interface and protocols of air traffic control systems, and establish additional civil aviation air routes for flights to and from the northern and the eastern parts of the Mainland.

     According to the plan, the three sides will seek to progressively improve the existing air traffic operations in the short-term, whereas in the medium to long-term, the aim will be to rationalise the PRD airspace management, air traffic control and flight procedures. The tripartite Working Group is discussing various specific measures to implement the plan, including the establishment of additional peripheral air routes to the east and west of the PRD, and a study on the feasibility of integrating departure release for airports in the region and setting up a common platform for the exchange of air traffic control information. Upon full implementation of the plan, the projected future air traffic growth in the region will be met by the enhanced PRD airspace capacity.  

     While efforts are being made to enhance the use of the PRD airspace, CAD has been taking measures to gradually increase the runway capacity of the two existing runways of the HKIA, with a view to achieving the target of 68 aircraft movements per hour by 2015. These measures include the rationalisation of flight procedures, recruitment of additional air traffic controllers, and replacement of the air traffic control system in 2013. To fulfil the development needs of the aviation industry, the Airport Authority Hong Kong ("AAHK") will carry out a mid-field expansion project to provide additional aircraft stands and apron facilities and a new passenger concourse, increasing the handling capacity of the airport to 70 million passengers and 6 million tonnes of cargo per annum. This is expected to cope with air traffic demand up to 2020. AAHK is also undertaking the Airport Master Plan 2030 Study to review the airport facilities with a view to maintaining the status and competitive edge of Hong Kong as an international and regional aviation hub. A key issue in the study is the possibility of building a third runway. The study is expected to be completed within this year.

Ends/Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:15


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