With strong traffic growth in Asia set to stay for the foreseeable future, the authorities in China and Hong Kong must ensure airport and air traffic control development keeps pace, says Tony Tyler, the chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways

The good times are back for aviation. This most cyclical of industries is currently going through a major boom, with airlines around the world - and particularly in Asia - reaping the benefits of high passenger demand and a period of sustained growth.

The overall picture currently looks very bright and the optimism is being fuelled by the opportunity of being able tap into the potentially huge markets of China and India. What happens in those countries in the coming years will to a large extent shape the future for the aviation industry not only in the region, but on a global scale.

Tony Tyler, W200The most recent statistics underline the strength of the aviation industry in the Asia Pacific region. The major US and European carriers still dominate many of the airline "league tables" but we can now see the growing influence of Asian carriers in every aspect of the airline business.

Phenomenal growth
The industry in Asia has seen phenomenal growth in recent years and the trend looks set to continue as airlines get stronger and the markets they serve open up to more flights by more airlines. The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) notes that Asia's share of world traffic, measured in RPKs, will rise from 26% in 2005 to 32% in 2025 - a bigger slice of a much bigger pie, with overall traffic expected to more than double.

India and China will continue to be the focus of attention as red-hot economies in the two countries lead to ever-growing numbers of their huge populations getting the urge to fly. China's economy is now growing at more than 9% a year and last year the number of passengers passing through the country's airports jumped by 17% to 332 million. Air travel in China is forecast to grow at double-digit annual rates for more than a decade - and even then only a fraction of its population will have taken to the skies!

Small wonder that carriers from around the world want to get in on the China act. It was a strong motivation for Cathay Pacific to acquire Dragonair, with its superb China network, in 2006. Now we have a significant China presence, boosted further by a special relationship with Air China. One of our key aims is to build the strength of the dual hubs of Hong Kong and Beijing.

Hubbing is very much key to the future in aviation because competition is increasingly determined by network strength. There are now a number of very strong competing hubs in Asia - Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul to name a few - and they are all competing for traffic to and from these booming markets.

Hub strength will be a key factor in growth for major Asian airlines, but with this growth come problems - congested skies and overcrowded airports being just two. These issues are a growing concern in mainland China in particular and there are worries that congestion issues could constrain the growth of aviation in the country.

Identifying solutions
The Chinese authorities are very aware of the problem. Action is now being taken and IATA is currently working with China's aviation bodies to identify solutions. Proposals are already being put forward to widen air corridors, reduce vertical separation and reduce the logjams at airports.

The industry must support the Chinese authorities' determined efforts to overcome congestion in the air and on the ground.

Hong Kong too has become a victim of its own success, with limited slot availability impacting the growth plans of airlines. Airspace congestion over the Pearl River Delta area, which serves five airports, is severely affecting the efficiency of the Hong Kong hub.

Slot shortages and air congestion are serious handicaps to further development and all of us who use the superb facility at Hong Kong International Airport look forward to a timely solution.

The signs are encouraging. The Hong Kong government has already announced an increase in the number of slots from this winter, and it has also approved the replacement of the city's air traffic control facility.

Unfortunately, this is not going to be complete until 2012, but in the interim all possible measures must be taken to increase the flow of traffic to and from Hong Kong International Airport.

Source: Airline Business