Hong Kong green groups have criticised a budget airline’s plan for “flights to nowhere” to cater for travel-lovers who have been earthbound during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HK Express last month announced plans for three tours each lasting 90 minutes over the city – dubbed “UOFlycation” – to bring back the “memories of travel.”

Hong Kong Express.
A Hong Kong Express plane. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Owing to travel restrictions and months of staying at home, we believe travel-lovers are eager to travel and explore the world again,” it said of the flights, which are scheduled to start in November.

The global travel industry has borne the brunt of the closure of international borders, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

But Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director of NGO Green Earth, told HKFP in a telephone interview that the flights programme would create unnecessary additional carbon emissions.

“We understand Covid-19 has somehow suppressed overall carbon emissions due to lockdown in many cities and countries over the past half a year. Now it [HK Express] is creating some unnecessary flights and it doesn’t create any positive benefits to the environment, only negative ones.”

air pollution hong kong
Air pollution in Hong Kong. File Photo: phatfreemiguel, via flickr.

Lau said the flights could also pose an avoidable health risk for passengers. “I would not like to be kept in close contact with other people I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t see any additional excitement or new experience that could be provided to the customer.”

Patrick Fung, chief executive officer at Clean Air Network, told HKFP the NGO understands the importance of striking a balance between economic recovery – including job creation – and public health. He cited international “green recovery” plans and the US Green New Deal plan as evidence of projects that would cut greenhouse gas emissions while stimulating economic growth and delivering higher returns on government spending.

“The fly-to-nowhere programme cited here… might aim to generate temporary jobs and satisfy consumers’ itch to fly and flight services, [but it] is clearly not a component in a Green Recovery or the Green New Deal trajectory,” Fung said.

“We think one of the most important post-Covid missions for society is to develop ways to recover economically and socially while achieving longer-lasting environmental health.” 

Carbon offset pledge

In an email response to HKFP, an HK Express spokesperson said it would “mitigate the impact” of its programme through contributions to a carbon offset programme.

hong kong international airport quarantine order coronavirus
A number of flights cancelled at Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

“#UOFlycation is an initiative to encourage people to rediscover the joy of flying after months of travel constraints,” the statement read. “We will be fully offsetting the carbon emissions of this campaign by contributing to the Cathay Pacific Group’s Fly Greener programme to mitigate the impact.”

“The Fly Greener programme helps ensure that the CO2 generated from air travel is reduced elsewhere by purchasing ‘carbon offsets’ that come from third-party-validated projects which decrease or prevent CO2 emissions.”

HK Express was purchased by Cathay Pacific last July.

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.