Asia-Pacific Airborne: Six Futuristic Mega-Airports, Including Hong Kong International, Will Handle Unprecedented Growth in Air Travel in the Asia-Pacific Region

By Mok, John C. | Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Asia-Pacific Airborne: Six Futuristic Mega-Airports, Including Hong Kong International, Will Handle Unprecedented Growth in Air Travel in the Asia-Pacific Region


Mok, John C., Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy


Asia-Pacific represents a region stretching from China, Korea, and Japan to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and across to Australia and New Zealand. Over the next decade the Asia-Pacific region will witness the development of several mega-airports - that is, airports capable of serving two to three times the volume of passengers handled by today's major airports.

On July 6, 1998, the new Hong Kong International Airport opened and commissioned into service Terminal 1, perhaps the largest passenger terminal building in the world in terms of passenger processing capacity. Hong Kong's Terminal 1, with an attached Y-shaped aircraft-gate concourse, can serve 35 million passengers per year. This level of traffic is equivalent to the total number of passengers that traveled through Denver International Airport or Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1997. In fact, only nine airports throughout the world served more passengers in 1997 than the capacity of Hong Kong's Terminal 1. Furthermore, Terminal 1 is designed so that it may be expanded to serve up to 45 million passengers per year.

One week earlier, on June 30, 1998, the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport opened for commercial operations. It too has a passenger terminal building and aircraft concourses that will eventually be expanded to serve up to 45 million air passengers annually.

No longer futuristic plans, mega-airports are today's reality. As the aviation industry enters the 21st century, airport operators in the Asia-Pacific region who are responsible for planning and implementing mega-airports will face change on an unprecedented scale.

Fundamental challenges will include rapid growth in the number of air travelers in a deregulated business environment, the emergence of new technologies affecting both airport and aircraft design, increasing awareness of the environmental impacts associated with air travel, a requirement for substantial investment in infrastructure expansion, and unprecedented public expectation for security and safety. These changes carry significant implications for the emerging economies of the Asia-Pacific region and its air transportation needs.

Accelerating Change

Creating capacity now to meet future demand is a task that airport planners and operators face worldwide. In addressing this task, we are asked to forecast future demand for air services and to anticipate future operating parameters, specifically the types of aircraft that will be flying and the kinds of infrastructure - runways, taxiways, boarding bridges, and baggage handling - that will be required. Our conclusions will determine the nature of facilities that will be commissioned today to serve the traveling public well into the next millennium.

Although there is general agreement that change is inevitable in the aviation industry and that the rate of change is accelerating, opinions differ when it comes to predicting the scope, direction, and consequences of change. Unfortunately, when change takes place, the consequences may be traumatic if the outcome was not anticipated. The disparity between what is known and can be planned for, versus what is not known and cannot be predicted, increases the further one peers into the future.

The dilemma that airport planners face is that we can imagine a future based only on what we know, not on what we don't know. For example, who might have imagined at the birth of manned flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, that before the century was out jumbo jets would be carrying 400 passengers around the globe at 550 miles per hour? Even more daunting than anticipating such dramatic changes may be the task of planning for them through designing and building airports that serve today's needs and those of the future.

There is no solution to this dilemma. As a consequence, the challenge today is to develop airport facilities in a way that will minimize to the greatest extent possible the potentially adverse consequences of unforeseen change. …

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