Coronavirus: as Covid-19 batters travel, HK International Airport to close one runway

04-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) will close one of its two runways from next week, because of a collapse in air traffic of about 90 per cent caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A circular from the Airport Authority, which runs HKIA, cited a need to close the north runway for regular maintenance and construction work, from April 8 “until further notice”.

The north runway was not due to be closed until 2022, when the under-construction third runway, part of a HK$141.5 billion expansion, is ready.

The small number of passenger flights still operating have been consolidated into the main terminal, with all other buildings closed. The unused remote terminal buildings and surplus parking stands in the main building are being used to park grounded planes instead. Many taxiways across HKIA have also been requisitioned to hold the grounded planes.

Some of the biggest and busiest airports in the world, also feeling the impact of the coronavirus on air travel, have taken similar measures, or, like in the case of Dubai, were forced to close passenger flights on government orders.

HKIA is handling on average between 40 and 50 departing passenger flights daily, down from about 550 to 600. Cargo flights remain busy with the surge in demand for medical supplies from China.

Meanwhile, the number of people departing Hong Kong has fallen to three digits over the past week since the city tightened measures discouraging travel to and from the city.

On March 29, the number of people leaving HKIA fell to a low of 409.

Law Cheung-kwok, a Hong Kong aviation policy expert, said: “It’s obvious why the runway is closing and definitely the right response for the very, very low air traffic now.”

He added that one runway would be sufficient in accommodating the remaining traffic for quite a while.

The Airport Authority said: “[We] adjust runway operational arrangements according to actual needs at HKIA. Impacted by the Covid-19 epidemic, air traffic at HKIA has significantly decreased.”

Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, which control half of runway slots at HKIA, cut their flight schedules in April and May by 96 per cent while most foreign airlines have cancelled flights to HKIA, or switched to running cargo-only services.

With so many planes grounded and parked around the airport and so few passenger aircraft departing, it could mark the first long-term closure of one of the airport’s two runways since it opened in 1998.

Law said he could not recall similar action taken by airport chiefs even when air traffic during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 was badly hit.

Even pilots who have flown from HKIA since 2000 have said they could not recall such drastic action.


Category: Hong Kong

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