Airlines lobby authorities to allow increased aircraft movements at peak times to ease mounting congestion

Airlines are pressing Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) to increase permitted aircraft movements at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) as it begins to face a slot shortage at peak times of the day only seven years after its opening.

Airlines have been warning for some time that a slot-shortage problem is coming at HKIA and they now say it has indeed become a reality. Although there are many slots available at non-peak times of day, during the busiest times – roughly between 13:00 and 17:00 – there is already more demand than available slots.

CAD director-general Norman Lo says the issue is being addressed, but there are complicating factors. “At the moment it is not a concern, but definitely in future it will be a concern,” he says.

Although HKIA has two runways the CAD has declared an hourly ceiling on aircraft movements of 53. Airlines privately complain that this is too conservative, but Lo says “we are trying to be practical” and the CAD wants to raise the ceiling gradually to ensure that controllers and systems are able to cope.

He says factors preventing the CAD from allowing many more movements include the fact that there are several other airports between 50km (30 miles) and 140km away from HKIA, each with its own controlling authority. Lantau island, off which HKIA is located, also has two peaks higher than 3,000ft (915m). In addition, because of the border between mainland China and Hong Kong, the two sides maintain an “invisible barrier”, which means aircraft leaving HKIA must be directed east or south east, or west or south west, before turning north if necessary through Chinese airspace.

Lo says air traffic control (ATC) equipment in Hong Kong is in need of upgrading, as the technology is from the early 1990s, given that the ATC centre was commissioned in 1996, two years before HKIA opened. More controllers are also needed to handle the rise in traffic through the increasingly busy airport, he says.

“One of the factors to increase capacity will be to improve the ATC system,” says Lo.

The CAD is carrying out initial work that is intended to lead to Hong Kong government approval for a major upgrade of ATC systems to include new satellite-based CNS/ATM (communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management) technologies.

Lo says it is hoped entirely new ATC systems can be introduced within five or six years, in part to help ease the workload of controllers, which has been steadily increasing.

“The systems we are using are not as advanced as neighbouring airport systems in the CNS/ATM context,” he says.

It is also working to hire more trainee controllers and is seeking to work with authorities in nearby Macau and China to have a “more integrated approach” towards air traffic procedures.


Source: Flight International