Turmoil shakes HK airport’s hub status

By Zhang Hongpei in Beijing and Zhao Juecheng in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/13 21:33:39

Shenzhen facility likely to benefit as passengers turn away

Passengers check screen at the Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday Photo: Zhao Juecheng/GT


The chaos caused by demonstrators at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), if not handled expeditiously and properly, will make the airport lose its premium status as an international hub, analysts told the Global Times on Tuesday.

All flights in and out of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) were cancelled on Tuesday, the Hong Kong airport announced around 5:20 pm on Tuesday, the second consecutive day on which the airport was paralyzed due to illegal public assembly.

The announcement came after protesters returned to the airport on Tuesday.

According to the website of the airport authority, about 370 flights in and out of Hong Kong had been cancelled on Tuesday as of 3:00 pm. 

On Monday, the number was 238 flights, China Central Television reported. 

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, Air China said it had cancelled all flights to and from Hong Kong on Tuesday and Wednesday, and more such flights might be affected. 

The carrier increased capacity for air routes between Beijing and Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province. China Eastern Airlines also cancelled all flights in and out of Hong Kong on Tuesday.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement on Monday that efforts will be made to increase the transfer capacity of airports in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to avoid disruption to trips between the Chinese mainland and HK following the disruption in the Hong Kong airport.

The civil aviation authority said that it will enhance flight capacity and make it easier for passengers to reschedule or cancel flights or get refunds, according to the statement.

Threat to premium status

As a lifeline of the SAR, the Hong Kong airport, one of the busiest in the world, deeply affects the region's economic development. According to media reports, about 800,000 people live on the industrial chain of the HKIA.

The airport, which connects to more than 220 destinations worldwide, handled 74.7 million passengers and 427,700 flights in 2018, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

It was ranked among the world's top 10 airports for shopping, leisure amenities, dining, airport transit, hotels and airport security, cleanliness and staff services in the annual Skytrax World Airport awards for 2019.

Due to the political unrest, Hong Kong, heavily reliant on its airport as a window to the world in terms of talent and free trade, is being challenged as an international transit hub - and perhaps even an international financial hub, said Guo Ning, an aviation analyst.

"In the long run, the Hong Kong airport incident means the city must consider its future development path ... if it's to remain an international transport center," said Guo.

He added that the HKIA's third runway, which is still under construction, might be halted due to the protest.

The third runway was approved in 2016, five years after the initial proposal, with a construction budget of HK$141.5 billion ($18.08 billion). It is scheduled to be completed in 2024.

The airport's hub advantage is likely to ebb as passengers are already complaining about traffic jams and flight cancellations caused by the protesters, an aviation industry insider told the Global Times on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

"People will vote with their feet: They can transfer via other international cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore or Dubai by skipping Hong Kong," he noted.

"As Hong Kong's airport is threatened by political unrest ... it will take a long time for it to regain its premier status," he added.

About one-third of its passengers use the airport as a transit location, media reports said.

The Shenzhen airport is expected to get one-third of the HKIA's passengers, according to a report released by Citic Securities on Tuesday.

In the long run, the incident will indirectly enhance the position of Shenzhen International Airport as an international hub, said the report. 

By 2025, the annual passenger throughput of the Shenzhen International Airport is forecast to reach 19 million.

Shares of Shenzhen Airport Co gained 10.02 percent on Tuesday, while Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Co's shares rose 4.48 percent.


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