The Keys to Growth

AIR TRAFFIC GROWTH. Earlier we looked at the main challenges that face today’s airport operators, and the working approaches that are demanded by ever increasing numbers and expectations. In this section we take a look at one airport – Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) – that is working towards a target of 100 million passengers a year, within the next five years.


Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is already the world’s third busiest international airport, and has been named as the busiest cargo airport in the world for nine consecutive years. In 2018, it handled more than 74.5 million passengers and over 5.1 million tonnes of cargo.

“HKIA enjoys an unrivalled geographical advantage in the region,” says Vivian Cheung, Deputy Director of Aviation Development at HKIA.

From Hong Kong you can reach half of the world’s population within just five hours’ flying time. (This) extensive connectivity has enabled HKIA to establish itself as a leading international and regional hub.

Already, the airport uses the latest technology to serve over 120 airlines and handles more than 1,100 daily flights serving 220 worldwide destinations, says Cheung.

Collaboration Across the Region
This quantity of throughput has demanded foresight, solid planning and extensive collaboration and coordination with suppliers, contractors and other operators. This approach has to a degree been one of necessity; most of the world’s fastest-growing large airports are located in emerging Asian markets and link directly into HKIA’s network. Sixteen of the fastest-growing top 30 airports, each handling over 15 million passengers are located in two adjacent countries, China and India.
As part of its growth plans, HKIA is pushing ahead with a raft of integrated initiatives that raise efficiency, improve safety, reduce operational costs and boost sustainability and capacity for airports, airlines and ANSPs.
HKIA’s approach includes partnering with established expertise to expand its capability and capacity with a new ThreeRunway (3RS) system, a 25-hectare SkyCity development, and terminal handling expansion at its T1 facility.

We have to apply the latest technologies, understanding and engage customers with the assistance of advanced data technologies and a smart solution hub.

– Vivian Cheung, Deputy Director of Aviation Development at HKIA

Technology Expansion
HKIA’s airport managers have also been applying innovative technology solutions to other aspects of passenger and internal airport operations in order to boost operation efficiency.
These include self-bag drop service, smart check-in kiosk, a custom “HKG My Flight” smartphone application and MyTAG baggage ID systems, says Cheung.
The airport is also addressing the interface between passenger and airside. It has installed 44 e-Security Gates that use biometric and facial recognition technology to enhance passenger experience – but just as importantly, to cut handling times. Any passenger over 11 years old holding a valid electronic travel document can participate, with no prior enrolment required.
“This whole biometric enrolment process can be completed in around 20 seconds,” explains Cheung. “In the near future, HKIA will extend the use of biometrics and facial recognition to check-in and boarding procedures with the aim of using a single token (to give) seamless experience for travellers.” Importantly, all these initiatives need to be integrated, says Cheung – any glitches in the handling area would cause considerable inconvenience to all operations down the line.

Airside Improvements
Indeed, using a silo mentality for passenger handling would simply lead to throughput backup on the airside, unless the airside ops are integrated with all other aspects of handling, says HKIA management.
Accordingly, HKIA has added to the passenger-side updates with the introduction of real-time GPS tracking system for airside vehicles and ground services equipment. The improvement in the effective deployment of resources has been immediately evident, notes Cheung, leading to significant handling efficiencies.
And out on the tarmac, HKIA has beefed up the capability of its AGL facilities, with the use of the world’s first automated system to conduct scanning and inspection of AGL.

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The Airport Authority has (also) installed high-speed camera technology – Airfield Ground Lighting Scanning and Inspection System (AGLSIS).

– Vivian Cheung, Deputy Director of Aviation Development at HKIA.

The new AGLSIS uses high-speed camera technology to facilitate fast, automated checking of the health of airfield and runway ground lighting, further increasing reliability and percentage on-time performance. This is just part of HKIA’s commitment to the integration of operations from departure gate, to tower, through runway operations, using data driven integration

Blue Sky Thinking
In a further nod towards “out of the box” growth generation, HKIA is developing a logistics centre on the landside of HKIA, projected to come on-stream in 2023. This facility will become the third largest warehouse in Hong Kong, and is branded as being the key Asian smart hub designed exclusively to serve the region’s fast-growing global e-commerce business.

“We are working hard on expanding cargo operations,” adds Cheung, noting that HKIA has already seen considerable success in the sector. ”HKIA has been ranked the world’s busiest cargo airport for nine consecutive years. To capture this growing demand we are developing our cargo strategy in three key areas: e-commerce, transhipments and high-value logistics like temperature-controlled pharmaceutical products.”

This development alone will add some 1.7 million tonnes of cargo to HKIA’s total throughput when it is up to full operation. Add that to HKIA’s 3RS completion and operational introduction in 2024, and the entire airport operation will be able to handle 600,000 flight movements, 100 million passengers, and 9 million tonnes of cargo and annually. This kind of throughput demands state of the art planning, as well as operational integration.

This demands identifying bottlenecks and offering integrated solutions that address airport operations from approach to departure. On the airside, that demands looking at every aspect of operations from approach, runway and taxiway lighting, to tower-based traffic control systems, to intelligent gate systems and docking automation.
“T1 is also undergoing an expansion project that will add 48 new check-in counters, and two new baggage reclaim carousels,” adds Cheung.
“And there are now over 20 HKIA Remote City Terminals (RCTs) across the Greater Bay Area (in HK city), providing a seamless multi-modal transportation experience connecting travellers between the Mainland to the rest of the world, via HKIA,” he adds.

We are applying (high) technology to offer solutions to both passengers and airport operations in order to enhance the passenger experience (as well as) our operational efficiency.

– Vivian Cheung, Hong Kong International Airport

As part of the airport’s commitment to cargo growth, it has allotted HK$70 million (US$9.9 million) solely for cool transport facilities for its cool pharmaceutical products handling.

“To meet the increasing air traffic demand and with an objective to transform the city’s airport … HKIA is … introducing smart initiatives to its numerous expansion projects,’” says Cheung.

As HKIA grows, the demands on its services have changed. As Ng Chi-kee (Executive Director, Airport Operations) recently noted in an interview with CNN, “Airport management, traditionally, (used to be) about infrastructure management. It then turned into flow management — the flow of passengers, cargo, information and finance. But the latest changes have turned into experience creation management; you can no longer just provide the things your customers want and like.”

Which neatly underlines the importance of a coherent approach to growth: it’s about smart data handling, planning, and above all the integration of operations, ideally through an experienced project coordinator.

Editorial Note: Photos courtesy of Hong Kong International Airport

ADB SAFEGATE is a leading provider of solutions that boost efficiency, improve safety and environmental sustainability and reduce operational costs for airports, airlines and ANSP’s. The company works with customers to identify performance bottlenecks and jointly solve them through integrated solutions that improve airport and airline performance. These solutions address every aspect from approach to departure – airport traffic handling and guidance, airfield lighting, tower-based traffic control systems, intelligent gate and docking automation, services and advanced analytics. ADB SAFEGATE has more than 1,100 employees across 45 nationalities in 25 countries, and operates in more than 175 countries, serving more than 2,500 airports globally.

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