In a bid to garner more public support for the third runway project, the Airport Authority has proposed to reduce a construction levy on passengers while lengthening its duration.
Many people will immediately recognize this as an attempt to make a raw deal appealing.
However, just because the project has moved into the “haggling” phase, it does not mean the public has to accept it as fait accompli, especially with so many unresolved issues still hanging over it.
First and foremost is the question of time.
The purported premise for adding a third runway is a projected rise in air traffic that would soon outstrip the airport’s handling capacity.
Yet, the additional capacity from the third runway is only supposed to help meet demand up to 2030, a mere few years after the project’s current target completion date which now looks unrealistic given the spate of judicial reviews.
For a project whose construction cost of HK$141.5 billion (US$18.19) is already set to be Hong Kong’s most expensive ever, the benefit is decidedly underwhelming.
One factor dragging down its cost-benefit structure stems from the need to spend HK$22 billion to cover contaminated mud pits next to the existing airport.
Furthermore, the extent of the increase in handling capacity is literally up in the air as concerns about having to share limited airspace with nearby airports to the north have yet to be addressed.
If the third runway eventually fails to deliver on the promised capacity increase due to airspace bottlenecks, the return on investment would be even worse than it already appears to be.
“Escalating costs” has been used by some as a reason to push the third runway project ahead, threatening us with a larger bill if we subject the questionable project to proper scrutiny.
The average shopper will immediately recognize this as a sales pitch: “buy now, prices will go up tomorrow”.
At a time when the community has grown weary of project delays and cost escalations from various infrastructure projects, it is particularly reprehensible to hold “escalating costs” like a gun to our head.
Obviously, it would be foolhardy to greenlight the third runway project simply for fear that costs will escalate if we do not proceed quickly.
After all, the various project fiascos around us are largely the result of poor planning in the first place.
My fear is that if we succumb to threats about cost escalation, we would end up having to throw good money after bad.
As someone who believes in the need to safeguard Hong Kong’s competitiveness by boosting our air traffic handling capacity, I think we should seriously consider the feasibility of building a second airport at a location that would minimize airspace and environmental issues.
Since it took us only nine years to build the current airport and associated infrastructure, perhaps we have time to find and develop a long-term solution that would deliver real capacity increase at a reasonable cost.
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