Hong Kong aims to increase flight links to more belt and road countries to open up new trade, tourism frontiers: airport chief

Hong Kong’s airport currently offers direct flights to 220 places, including 40 locations in countries taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative – a strategy spearheaded by Beijing to improve trade and economic integration.

Airport Authority chairman Jack So says Hong Kong aims to increase its number of flight links with countries taking part in Beijing’s global belt and road trade network. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Belt and road countries that lack direct routes to and from Hong Kong include Argentina, Nigeria and Botswana.

Two of Hong Kong’s major carriers earlier expressed an interest in running direct flights to more locations covered under the Air Silk Road economic corridor, which connects more than 100 cities in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

A top executive at Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways last month told the Post in an exclusive interview that the airline would explore new opportunities in the belt and road countries once it had rebuilt its core network.

Greater Bay Airlines in June of last year also said it planned to set up more routes connecting Hong Kong and mainland China to belt and road destinations, such as Kazakhstan, Pakistan and some cities in Africa.

On Thursday, airport chief So touched on the steps taken so far to boost the facilities’ regional and international presence, including setting up more than 20 check-in counters across the Greater Bay Area.

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The bay area refers to Beijing’s ambitious initiative to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities into an economic powerhouse.

So added that the airport was also focused on the “exchange of experience and expertise”, with its aviation academy and consultant company offering their services to sister sites in belt and road countries.

The airport chief made the remarks at the two-day Asia-Pacific Region Innovation & Capacity Building Symposium, which brought together officials and industry leaders to discuss aviation solutions.

Cathay Pacific last month expressed an interest in increasing flights to belt and road countries in the future. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Speaking at the same event, Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun expressed optimism over Hong Kong’s air passenger throughput, predicting it would reach 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year and make a full recovery in 2024.

He also cited an informal talk with Airport Authority CEO Fred Lam Tin-fuk earlier on Thursday about how confident the latter was about reaching the 80 per cent mark soon.

“[Lam] said ‘100 per cent’, because Christmas is a wonderful time for air travel,” Wong added.

Official figures showed Hong Kong’s airport handled 3.8 million passengers in October, 70 per cent of levels recorded during the same month in 2019.

The two-day symposium aims to boost collaboration across the air navigation and airport operation fields, with exhibitors including some mainland-based aviation higher education institutions, aerospace multinational Thales Group and the Oman Airports Management Company.

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Cui Xiaofeng, the deputy administrator of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, on Thursday said that exchanging knowledge, innovation and talent were essential to nurturing more international collaboration across the sector.

While the mainland’s civil aviation sector had worked very hard to integrate scientific and technological innovation into its development, the relevant bodies would need to “uphold concepts of openness and inclusivity” and “focus on the [industry’s] common needs and challenges”, he said.

Aviation industry partners from Hong Kong, the mainland and the wider region also exchanged 18 memorandums of understanding at the event’s closing ceremony.

The agreements covered areas ranging from civil aviation capacity-building and products to greater strategic collaboration between Hong Kong and the mainland.

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