Hong Kong International Airport, buffeted by months of civil unrest in the city, has no plans to cut back on long-term investment despite air traffic slumping at one of Asia’s busiest gateways.
Although HKIA has made huge investments, notably on a HK$144 billion (US$18.46 billion) third runway, the Hong Kong Airport Authority’s executive director for engineering and technology Ricky Leung Wing-kee on Thursday shrugged off the downturn in passenger traffic.
Leung, in his first day on the job, was speaking as the airport showed off its new HK$1 billion “skybridge” to link two terminal buildings – an upgrade that has been two years in the making.
“The fluctuation in short-term passenger numbers does not affect investment in long-term infrastructure,” Leung told a media briefing.
But he was not able to say whether discounts on airfield charges would be offered to help airlines ride out the fall in passenger volumes as travellers avoid a city which has been rocked by more than seven months of anti-government protests.
The airport will unveil its annual figures on Sunday and is expected to show a drop of about 2.5 million passengers year on year. The airport handled 74.7 million travellers in 2018 and 5 million tonnes of cargo.
The skybridge is part of a wider HK$9 billion expansion and upgrade of the airport’s infrastructure and facilities, some of which have already materialised, including a refurbished and expanded dining hall.
The rush is on to finish work in time for the bridge to be open to travellers by the summer, potentially as early as June. The 200-metre long and 28-metre high structure was wheeled into place last week and will connect the main terminal one building with the north satellite concourse, which currently can only be reached by bus.
Overall, 5 million passengers a year will benefit from a smoother experience by not having to take the bus between the two buildings, saving them about 10 minutes.
About 110 planes use the concourse each day and over the 12 months, 100,000 bus trips are expected to be eliminated, meaning fewer vehicles darting around the airfield and more efficient operations.
A restaurant, observation deck, and glass panel flooring allowing travellers to look at planes passing underneath will be the main showpieces of the skybridge.
Once completed, the bridge will be the largest and tallest in the world at an airport, taking over from ones at London Gatwick and Kuala Lumpur. Planes as large as the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger airliner – will be able to pass underneath.
Weighing 5,000 tonnes, the bridge was built in three sections in Zhongshan in Guangdong province to prevent disruptions at the 24-hour airport and then transported by sea to the site.
The third runway and a new passenger terminal building are also being built, and expected to be ready by the end of 2024. A sprawling commercial development, known as the SkyCity Project, is also in the works and the mix of retail and entertainment space will gradually pop up over several years.
The airport has also been directly affected by the anti-government unrest, which broke out last June, with protesters occupying the departure and arrivals halls in August, preventing travellers from getting to their flights. Strict security measures have since been put in place to allow only ticketed passengers to enter the terminal buildings.