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Airspace management reform urged (2)

By Xin Dingding  (China Daily)

08:11, October 31, 2012

Congested airspace

The region's sky has been so severely congested that the International Air Transport Association has said that the situation in the Pearl River Delta is one of the top three global air traffic control problems.

In the past few years, even though new runways were added, they failed to fuel traffic growth because of the congestion problems.

The congestion also increases fuel consumption. Researchers at the Aviation Policy and Research Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong estimated that the congestion costs more than HK$1 billion ($130 million) a year in fuel alone.

The most direct cause behind the congestion problems is that four of the five airports - in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Hong Kong and Macao - are all packed at the mouth of the Pearl River, forcing planes to make detours to ensure safe take-offs and landings, professor Ouyang said.

The Guangzhou Baiyun airport is a little up in the north, but flights leaving the four airports for northern destinations all have to fly over Baiyun airport, adding to the problems there, he said.

Many people wonder why the airports were built so close to each other. Ouyang said that is due to complicated factors, involving "historical reasons".

"Shenzhen, a pioneer of China's reform and opening-up efforts, which started more than 30 years ago, tried to cooperate with the Hong Kong airport, but the different social systems and border policies made it impossible," he said.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. Shenzhen, unable to wait for an airport to boost economic development, built an airport that opened in 1991.

It was a similar case in Zhuhai, which opened its airport in 1995, though it had mulled cooperating with Macao, which did not return to China until 1999, he said.

Ouyang believes that the only way for the five airports to survive in the region is if they have different functions, like the five airports in the Greater London area.

Zhuhai airport has the weakest performance among the five airports in the Pearl River Delta, as its planned scale is found to have surpassed the actual needs of the city's population of 600,000.

A blessing in disguise for Zhuhai is that its redundant capacity has allowed it to host a biennial air show and develop general aviation flights, which refers to all civil aviation activities except for scheduled flights, he said.

However, the competition between Guangzhou and Shenzhen airports needs more attention, he said.

As the Hong Kong airport is an international air hub and the Macao airport aims to attract leisure tourists, intense competition exists mainly between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, with both seeking development in passengers and cargo transportation, he said.

Coordination between the two airports will be difficult, since the two are run by two separate and independent corporations, he said.

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