Hong Kong International's new runway plan gets green light from government's environmental advisors
Concept of HKIA with three runways (graphic: AAHK)
Thu 2 Oct 2014 – The Hong Kong government’s advisors on environmental protection and conservation issues, the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE), has endorsed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on expanding Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) into a three-runway system. The approval though comes with conditions and recommendations over concerns regarding marine and terrestrial ecology. According to the EIA, the existing two runways are forecast to reach capacity between 2019 and 2022, although IATA believes it may be much earlier, and adding a new runway would boost capacity by around 44 per cent by the time it is expected to be operational in 2023, if approved. However, WWF claims the proposal is biased towards the potential economic benefits, while the social and environmental impacts have been downplayed.
The three-runway system, called 3RS, involves reclaiming around 650 hectares of the seabed, an area that includes what WWF describes as sensitive marine habitats with high ecological value, including Hong Kong’s declining population of Chinese white dolphins. The airport authority has pledged to build a marine park but only when the work is complete, while WWF says the proposed location is not the most prime dolphin habitat and has demanded the marine park be designated beforehand.
ACE has requested the government’s Director of Environmental Protection to consider imposing conditions in the Environmental Permit for AAHK to address these concerns and others concerning fisheries, water quality, landscape and visual, and waste management, as well as environmental monitoring and audits on air and noise emissions, before approval of the runway project.
There has been considerable interest in the environmental implications of the airport expansion and in June, over 700 members of the public attended two forum sessions to consider the EIA study, in which local and international experts presented information on its contents, major findings and mitigation measures.
ACE is comprised of non-officials from different sectors of the community, representing academics, green groups, business and districts. Its endorsement of the 3RS was hailed by AAHK Acting CEO CK Ng as a key milestone for the project.
“It’s also an important step for maintaining Hong Kong’s overall competitiveness by allowing our airport to meet its long-term aviation demand while generating local employment,” he said. “While pursuing economic development, we will do everything we can to mitigate its impact on the environment through the measures stipulated in the EIA report, aiming to achieve a balance between economic development and conservation.”
He added that AAHK would “carefully study” the conditions and recommendations made by ACE. If approved by the Hong Kong government, the airport authority is expected to start construction as soon as possible.
The airport handled 372,000 flight movements in 2013 and with an extra runway, capacity would increase to accommodate 620,000 flight movements a year to meet its projected demand of 607,000 movements annually by 2030.