HK Airport’s green ambitions mask poor government planning

May 09, 2012
Approach to the bording gates at Hong Kong International Airport

On the back of announcing a significant reduction in the carbon-intensity of their operations the Airport Authority Hong Kong and 40 business partners have pledged to make Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) the world's greenest.

While a laudable goal this may not be enough to fend off mounting concern among the Hong Kong general public, NGOs and legislators about the environmental conditions in and around the airport, which may ultimately derail plans to add a third runway to HKIA.

The airport community says it has achieved a 10 percent reduction in carbon intensity in 2011, on track with its goal pledged in 2010 to lower HKIA's carbon intensity 25 percent from 2008 emission levels by 2015.

The caveat, however, is that these numbers do not include the sizeable carbon emissions from aircraft as they take-off, land and taxi at what was the Asia’s third busiest passenger airport and the world’s busiest cargo airport in 2010. In March this year HKIA had another record month with 29,600 flight movements, 5.2 percent up on March 2011 and representing an annualized traffic level more than twice as great as the airport handled in 1999, its first full year of operation.

And there’s the rub. That level of air movement – together with the associated vehicle traffic in and out of the airport – generates a good deal of air and noise pollution. The 100,000 or so residents of Tung Chung, a new town built adjacent to HKIA as part of Hong Kong Airport Core Program, are well aware of the issue.

In retrospect deciding to build a new town next to a major airport was always asking for trouble. Well before the third runway may be completed, however, the Hong Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge – which is being constructed without a rail track – will be sweeping another 9,200 ~ 14,000 vehicles per day past Tung Chung, rising to projected 35,700 ~ 49,200 vehicles per day in 2035.

According to the HK Airport Authority more than 300 green initiatives were undertaken to achieve the 10 percent carbon intensity reduction, including installing LEDs, improving chiller systems, introducing more energy-efficient vehicles and launching green educational programs.

If it is to alleviate the environmental impact that the Hong Kong Government’s mega-planners seem intent on bringing about, however, the airport community is going to have to do a great deal more to shrink its footprint.

Either that or demolish Tung Chung.