It sometimes pays to complain. Airlines have won their battle against the proposed fees at Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok airport, which were originally to have been double those at Kai Tak.

After more than a year of heated negotiations, the airport authority has sliced between 25 per cent and 40 per cent from its planned fees, ending a tense stand-off with international carriers.

Under the revised charging scheme, airlines will pay US$5,700 in aeronautical charges, a 35.4 per cent increase over the existing airport. Originally, they faced US$8,700 at CLK for a four-hour turnaround involving a B747-400 carrying 418 passengers. That compared with just US$4,200 at Kai Tak.

Refusing to admit that it has backed down, the airport authority claims it was able to adjust the charges because it believes a stronger financial contribution than expected will come from commercial and retail operations. Whatever the reason, the outcome is a huge relief for carriers already hard pressed by rising costs and tough economic times.

Indeed, it's currently good news all round for CLK. Hong Kong financial secretary Donald Tsang Yamkuen asserts that the airport will open on schedule in April next year, quashing persistent reports of a delay while rail transport links are completed.

Meanwhile, Beijing has agreed that air traffic controllers at CLK will assume responsibility for all commercial flights over the Pearl River Delta where Zhuhai, Shenzen, Macau and Hong Kong airports operate in close proximity. Hong Kong has the best airport and the busiest traffic, explains Zhang Liangdong, a Chinese government official.

Tom Ballantyne

Source: Airline Business