The new, third runway at Hong Kong International Airport was officially opened on Friday, against the backdrop of the Covid-19 hiatus in the aviation industry. The city’s flagship carrier became the first commercial operator to make a landing.

Cathay Pacific’s cargo flight from Shanghai was the first commercial flight to land on the third runway on July 8, 2022. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

Final preparation work was carried out on Thursday evening, according to a statement from the Airport Authority. Hours later, a Cathay Pacific cargo flight flying in from Pudong, Shanghai touched down at 8:27 a.m.

Final preparation before the third runway began operation. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

“Our freighter fleet has played a pivotal role in keeping essential supplies, notably vaccines and testing kits, moving between Hong Kong and the rest of the world throughout the pandemic… The commencement of the Third Runway is a milestone achievement for the Hong Kong international aviation hub that will greatly enhance its capacity and capability for handling passenger and cargo flights,” Cathay’s Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang said in a press release.

Bumpy ride

The five-year construction of the new runway was only completed in September 2021, when Hong Kong was effectively isolated from the rest of the world owing to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The project has had a bumpy ride since it was proposed by the government in 2010, facing opposition from environmental groups as well as judicial challenges by activists.

The third runway began operation on July 8, 2022. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

Green groups criticised the project as 650 hectares of land had to be reclaimed to build the 3.9 kilometre third runway, saying the move would significantly affect the the ecological system nearby, such as destroying the habitat of the Chinese White Dolphins.

A Government Flying Service plane on the third runway. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

The High Court, however, dismissed a judicial challenge by two activists in 2016.

Final preparation before the third runway began operation. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

The cost of the the three-runway system was also a point of concern. The Airport Authority estimated a HK$141.5 billion cost, which was shouldered partially by travellers.

Airport Authority Hong Kong and Civil Aviation Department conducted joint inspection of the third runway. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

Starting from 2016, the Airport Construction Fee for short-haul departing passengers flying in economy class was HK$90, while the fee for short-haul passengers in first or business class was HK$160. For long-haul passengers, the fee for economy, and first or business class tickets, was HK$160 and HK$180 respectively.

New runway necessary

The government said the third runway was necessary as the other two runways were already operating beyond their capacity, adding it would create job opportunities.

The third runway began operation on July 8, 2022. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

The other parts of the three-runway system are still under construction, including the expansion of Terminal 2 and the building of the automated people mover and baggage handling system, which are expected to be completed by 2024.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.