HK’s battered aviation sector expected to receive boost in policy address as stakeholders call for ‘as much help’ as possible

26-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The upcoming policy address by Hong Kong’s leader should include measures to bolster connectivity in the Greater Bay Area in southern China to help the air travel industry, which has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts have said.

The aviation sector is tipped to be among businesses to receive the most assistance in the address by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Wednesday. Among the key suggestions are relaxing border crossing rules and improving transport links beyond flights so travellers can transfer with ease onto high-speed trains, coaches or ferries.

The Greater Bay Area (GBA) aims to combine Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities into an economic and innovation powerhouse. They together share a population of more than 70 million people, seven airports and a combined gross domestic product of $1.4 trillion.

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Hong Kong’s aviation sector has been severely hit by the Covid-19 crisis, with flagship carrier Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong International Airport both suffering a roughly 99 per cent plunge in passenger numbers. Cathay narrowly avoided collapse through a HK$39 billion recapitalisation effort, most of which came from the government.

Lam hinted earlier this month her policy initiatives for the aviation sector would focus on strengthening the city’s role in the Greater Bay Area following her meetings with various central government ministries, including the civil aviation administration.

Stanley Hui Hon-chung, a key adviser to Hong Kong-based start-up Greater Bay Airlines, said the government should relax cross-border rules to speed up the movement of people and trade.

“Connectivity between Hong Kong and the rest of the Greater Bay Area, be it by highway, high-speed train or high-speed hydrofoils, is important,” said Hui, a former head of the Airport Authority and Cathay sister airline Dragonair.

“Ease of flow through all the control points on the boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of the GBA is critical, and the government should continue to make this flow of people, goods, vehicles relatively free and efficient.”

Before the pandemic struck, mainland travellers would need a visa to visit Hong Kong that was valid for up to seven days per trip. For any trips out of the city, they would need separate bookings.

Hong Kong and Beijing signed a tentative agreement in February last year that would allow for all trips by air, sea and land to fall under the umbrella of a single ticket. But progress to turn the vision into reality has been slow.

Airlines are still waiting for regulatory approval to sell the all-in-one tickets and secure rights for sharing flight codes with operators of rail transport, coaches and ferries.

Stanley Kan, chair of the Greater Bay Area Aviation Exchange Association think tank, identified multimodal transport as an area in which Hong Kong could improve, given its stronger international links.

“Combining air, sea and railway to connect Hong Kong as one of the most convenient and effective airports in the GBA could provide even better customer service and experience,” the former Hong Kong Airlines executive said. “Make it easier for people to come to and from Hong Kong and China through the airport with additional transport.”

Under restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the mainland border with Hong Kong is closed to nearly all travellers. But on the back of the mainland’s success in reducing the number of Covid-19 cases, its domestic aviation market has largely recovered.

The aviation sector has already sought government approval to redistribute the right to fly between Hong Kong and 23 mainland destinations relinquished by the closure of Cathay Dragon and allowing mainlanders to transfer via the financial hub.

Another long-standing request is for rearrangement of the region’s airspace to cope with additional runways and flights in time for the arrival of the third runway at Hong Kong’s airport.

Hui is among the industry experts pushing for measures to increase competition with Cathay Pacific, including by allowing more flights.

“An open aviation policy, with aviation partners throughout the world, including of course mainland China under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, will benefit consumers, provide the foundation for airlines to provide air services, local in particular, and ultimately, benefit Hong Kong companies,” he said.

Airport Authority director and chair of its business development committee Allan Zeman suggested offering financial incentives to help the airport by cutting airline fees to encourage their expansion.

“In the Greater Bay Area we have great airports in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, key airports already, but Hong Kong is the international airport,” the business magnate said. “I would like to see as much help from the government [as possible].”


Category: Hong Kong

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