Like all busy hubs, Hong Kong International Airport is constantly striving to make best use of its existing facilities while busily planning for the future, and with traffic demand soaring and set to exceed 100 million passengers and nine million tonnes of cargo per annum by 2030, it needs to open a host of new facilities over the next decade just to cope with demand.
Without doubt the the most high-profile of its infrastructure development programmes is the $18 billion (HK$141.5bn) Three-runway System (3RS) project, which will involve the construction of a third runway and associated taxiways, new terminal and third runway concourse on 650 hectares of reclaimed land by 2024.
However, it is far from the only project going on at HKIA right now as the gateway aims to enhance its capacity, improve its service offering to passengers and boost its non-aviation related revenues – and subsequently its economic importance to Hong Kong – through the further development of SKYCITY and other commercial projects.
In response to why the airport needs a third runway, Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) CEO, Fred Lam, notes that the 72.9 million passengers and five million tonnes of cargo that passed through the gateway in 2017 was 3.3% and 9.4% up respectively on the previous year.
He admits that the airport’s existing 3.8 kilometre long parallel runways are fully stretched during peak hours, but it is only when he hails the 30 minutes the airport has managed to shave off of the time it takes to carry out nightly routine maintenance to its runways that it becomes clear what a huge difference another runway will make to HKIA.
“Thirty minutes might not sound a lot, but it means that we can use the runway for half an hour more a day and that means another sixteen flights,” enthuses Lam. “Over the course of a year that’s an extra 5,840 flights, which is significant.”
Three-runway System (3RS)
Construction of the new 3RS at HKIA actually started in August 2016 and Lam notes that the eight-year project is on target to be completed on schedule in 2024, with the third runway opening in 2022 and new 280,000 square-metre terminal two years later.
The new terminal building with 57 aircraft parking positions will be located directly north of the existing Terminal 1 and south of the new third runway and be connected to an expanded Terminal 2 by an underground tunnel served by a 2,600-metre long Automated People Mover (APM) system.
The new facilities – together with the modification and expansion of the existing Terminal 2 to ensure that it is equipped to provide “fully-fledged terminal services with departure and arrival facilities” – will allow HKIA to serve an additional 30 million passengers annually, potentially rising to an extra 50 million with a future expansion to the new concourse.
First conceived in 2008 and fine-tuned over the next few years before winning government approval and passing one of the toughest Environmental Impact Assessment studies in Hong Kong’s history, the 3RS will also include a new high-speed baggage handling system and expanded road and transportation networks.
The scale of works is similar to the construction of a new airport, the first four years of which will effectively be spent on reclaiming land from the sea using a new, more environmentally friendly non-dredging method called ‘deep cement mixing’, which has never been tried in Hong Kong before.
And the new method, which involves treating the seabed before the reclamation work starts later this year, is just one of many green and sustainable design, construction and operational initiatives incorporated into the project.
AAHK expects to issue the tender for the construction of the new runway later this year and award it next year ahead of work beginning on it in 2020.
The airport currently handles around 1,150 aircraft movements a day, which amounts to around 420,000 aircraft movements yearly, although as mentioned earlier he believes that there is room to “squeeze a few more flights in”. When the 3RS is up and running the airport will be able to accommodate an extra 180,000 flights per annum.
Roxy Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of New World Development Company Limited, was recently awarded the contract to develop and manage “a world-class destination commercial development” in Hong Kong International Airport’s SKYCITY.
Scheduled to be opened in phases from 2023 to 2027, the development – adjacent to HKIA’s passenger terminals – will provide a maximum gross floor area of 350,000 square metres, with retail, dining and state-of-the-art entertainment facilities tailor-made for visitors and local residents of different ages.
It will be the largest integrated retail, dining and entertainment development in Hong Kong and a key development in the airport’s development of its own airport city.
SKYCITY is being developed on a 25-hectare site that will also feature independently built and operated hotels, cargo and logistic buildings and other aviation and non-aviation related facilities.
The airport’s 1,255-hectare site will grow to 1,900 hectares when the reclamation work for the 3RS is finished, and Lam is in no doubt that its ‘airport city’ will eventually grow beyond its Lantau Island home
and into other parts of the territory, cementing HKIA’s status as key economic generator for Hong Kong.
Terminal 1 upgrade and Sky Bridge
Lam says the upgrade and expansion of Terminal 1 is essential to ensure that HKIA continues to provide the quality services people have come to expect from it, readily accepting that the airport didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the new terminal to open in six years’ time before carrying out the work.
He also admits that part of the reason for the upgrade was that AAHK don’t want Terminal 1 to be perceived as “old and outdated” when the new state-of-the-art’ terminal opens in 2024.
“By the time the new terminal is built, Terminal 1 will be as good as Terminal 2, so what I keep telling the local community is that by 2024 we are not only giving Hong Kong a new runway and a new terminal, we are giving it a new airport,” enthuses Lam.
When finished, the new, more passenger-friendly T1 will have 48 additional check-in counters and two new baggage reclaim carousels, its own central courtyard with an outdoor garden, a host of new retail and F&B outlets and new self-service technologies designed to create a smooth and hassle-free airport experience.
Indeed, this year the airport launched an advanced, mobile self-service check-in kiosk where passengers can simultaneously validate their travel documents, print boarding passes and tag their luggage.
Perhaps most eye catching of all the projects currently going on at HKIA, however, will be Sky Bridge, the 200m long building over the airfield that will connect Terminal 1 and the North Satellite Concourse (NSC) saving up to 400 bus journeys a day between the complexes.
Lam, who jokes that Sky Bridge is his “pet project”, notes that the air-conditioned footbridge will be the highest point on the airfield other than the ATC tower – high enough for an A380 to pass under it – and boast its own restaurant and bar, arguably offering passengers the coolest place to relax and unwind at the airport.
Such is the size of the building that its steel structure is currently being assembled off-site in China and when finished in early 2020 will shipped by boat to the airport and installed overnight to ensure its construction causes the minimum of disruption to daily operations at Asia-Pacific’s fourth busiest airport.
Lam says: “We spare no expense in enhancing efficiency and improving the passenger experience. I believe Sky Bridge will be unique and something really special as well as being good for the environment.”