Hong Kong must boost ties with PRD airports to create synergy

December 22, 2014 18:10
Hong Kong airport has to export its technology and talent through cooperation with other cities. Photo: Bloomberg

Tighter cooperation with airports in the Pearl River Delta is likely to create synergy for Hong Kong International Airport, given the city’s competitive advantages.

As a global transport hub, Hong Kong airport has to compete with nearby Guangzhou airport, which is about to have a third runway, on top of the intense competition with airports in Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan.

It also has to compete with other transport hubs in Asia, like Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore and Bangkok.

Future competition will not be limited to infrastructure but also include management and technology. Hong Kong airport has to export its technology and talent through cooperation with others.

Hong Kong leads in aeronautical engineering and aircraft maintenance. It possesses world-class facilities, know-how and workforce and has already set up several aircraft maintenance and engineering centers on the mainland. The city has also exported its expertise and equipment to other Asian cities.

Hong Kong authorities are considering setting up a civil aviation training college to tap into its technical advantage and talent pools.

For example, Hong Kong airport has already exported its management system to Zhuhai airport, which would help the city to use Zhuhuai as a new runway or auxiliary air base. It is also making smooth progress in cooperating with Shenzhen airport, which would help beef up Hong Kong airport's long-term competitiveness.

The Railway Development Strategy 2000 has outlined a long-term plan to connect the Hong Kong airport to the mainland through the Chek Lap Kok Link and the Deep Bay Link. According to a 2007 plan, the railway systems between Hong Kong and Shenzhen should be expanded to connect the two airports and facilitate the establishment of a super-airport hub.

However, both Hong Kong and Shenzhen airports are industry leaders which control unique resources. It’s not easy for both sides to compromise, give up some resources and join hands. That’s why the grand plan has been shelved.

Still, cooperation with airports in Shenzhen or other neighboring cities would tip in favor of Hong Kong and redound to the benefit of all concerned parties.

Hong Kong has gradually lost its shine as mainland airports in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have played an impressive catch-up in recent years. Hong Kong used to be the gateway for mainland travelers going overseas. However, its radar now only covers southern China or just the Pearl River Delta.

Hong Kong has an advantage when it comes to international flights, while Guangzhou and Shenzhen have more domestic flights. Shenzhen has been taking the lead in attracting more Hong Kong travelers to take domestic flights there due to its more frequent flights and lower prices.

Guangzhou Baiyun airport has also recorded robust passenger growth since 2004 due primarily to the strong support from Southern Airlines.

The Hong Kong government has pledged to improve various transport connections to the airport in the coming years. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will be completed in 2016. Hong Kong airport also intends to build a third cargo terminal with an area of 10 hectares and plan to add around 28 aircraft stands within this year and 20 new parking stands in 2015. Moreover, the government gave the greenlight for the construction of a third runway in September.

The author is a researcher at China Business Centre of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Translation by Julie Zhu.

This article appeared in the Monday edition of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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Researcher of China Business Centre of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University