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Airport Authority’s ‘sweetheart land grab’ means shoppers will subsidise airline landing fees

The Airport Authority has been given the go-ahead on a 50-year lease to develop more than 10 hectares of the north commercial district at Chek Lap Kok into a large scale retail-dining and entertainment destination.

SCMP, September 24

It’s a strange thing how government appointed gamekeepers have a way of becoming poachers’ apologists. There is a big question to be answered here but nowhere have I even seen it asked by the airport’s directors:

Are we going single till or double till on this sweetheart land grant?

Let’s put this in simpler terms. Is there a law handed down to us from heaven that any shopping mall built within one kilometre of an airport runway must direct all its shop rental income to subsidising the landing fees of aircraft that use this runway (single till)?

Or do we say: “Hey, that’s ours. We built it with money from our public purse and any money it makes goes right back into our public purse. Flying and shopping are different activities. Keep your hands off it, Cathay Pacific” (double till).

The answer is obvious. It is the first of these two of course. The laws of heaven clearly state that airlines have a right to this money. It is written on the bottom of the clouds. Look up there and you’ll see it. Look harder.

Get yourself a better optometrist then. I know it is written there because the Airport Authority has 16 people on its board and every single one of them has seen it there. Cathay Pacific has shown it to them. That is why none of them have ever questioned the divine imperative of single till operations.

But let’s be a little impious and reconsider the rights to that HK$9.1 billion of terminal commercial and real estate income last year. It is more than twice as great as the income from airport charges and the airport would barely have broken even without it.

If airlines have some rights to dip into it because they come by air to pick people up and drop them off, we equally have buses, taxis and the Airport Express, which come by land to do this. They are just as important. Would you really walk there and back with your suitcase on your shoulders?

So should we not at least use some of the money to defray the horrendous capital cost of the Airport Express, which we only built to serve the airport? We dumped it on the Mass Transit Railway and now it adds a little bit every day to the commuting costs of millions of people who go nowhere near the airport.

At a minimum, let’s take this 10 hectares of reclamation near the airport (reclaimed after the airport was already in operation), dig a narrow ditch around it and rename it Tung Chung North. Then we can say it’s no more the airport’s mall than is the big discount mall in Tung Chung proper.

“No, no, no, please don’t do that,” says the airport’s board. “We need this land to defray the huge cost of building a third runway. That’s why the government gave it to us for free (nominal premium).”

Very well, let’s give this squeaky wheel its grease then but also remember that the shopping at the airport just hollows out the shopping in town and the shopkeepers in town pay taxes, too.

And it would be an insult to them as well as the rest of us if the airport were then to continue giving the airlines sweetheart terms on landing charges.

Up they go, Jack. You work for us, not the airlines.