Two and a half years after the UK handed back Hong Kong to China, it was Portugual's turn on 20 December to return a South-East Asian colony, when China resumed rule of Macau.

Like Hong Kong, Macau will remain a special administrative region of China for the next 50 years. But unlike Hong Kong, Macau's return to China is low key, despite the attendance of a quartet of Chinese leaders at the ceremony.

As far as aviation is concerned, business will not change. Air Macau was already majority-owned by China National Aviation (CNAC) and Macau's aviation partners have recognised it as Macau's flag carrier. The minority stake in the airline owned by Macau's government simply passes to the new administration. Beijing has cleared all of Macau's aviation bilaterals with 30 countries.

The airport, which Portugal intended to bequeath to its former colony, will continue to be the only international airport on the west side of the Pearl river. Beijing has refused international status to neighbouring Zhuhai airport so that Macau alone can fill that need. The handover may ease the way for traffic through Macau airport to and from Zhuhai's exclusive economic zone.

The change in status will not solve two of Macau's nagging problems, however. Despite opening in 1995 while Hong Kong still relied on congested Kai Tak, Macau never attracted much Hong Kong traffic to its airport. Now that Chek Lap Kok is open and operating with two 24h runways, Macau's chances have dimmed, especially since Chek Lap Kok lowered its landing fees in January.

Macau's biggest worry is still its reliance on Taiwan transit passengers to and from China. They make up a third of the airport's traffic, which is gaining on the 2.5 million mark. If China and Taiwan ever agree on direct flights, that business could disappear overnight. Macau is trying to boost other routes, but its only successes so far are services to Seoul, Bangkok and Manila.

Source: Airline Business