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Friday, Sep 18, 2020

Coronavirus: Hong Kong airport to close concourse as number of passenger flights plummets by two-thirds

Midfield concourse was home to ailing Hong Kong Airlines, which slashed 170 jobs earlier this week. Futuristic rectangular building opened in 2015 at a cost of HK$10 billion now being used to house parked jets

Hong Kong International Airport is preparing to consolidate all flights into the main terminal building, mothballing a newer concourse that sits between the two runways, as passenger flights into and out of the city drop by two-thirds.

The Airport Authority will seek to temporarily close the building – known as the midfield concourse – though no final decision has been reached as discussions with affected stakeholders, such as retailers, are ongoing according to sources. But many key facilities have already started relocating services into the main terminal building.

The main tenant of the concourse is the ailing Hong Kong Airlines, which has slashed the number of daily flights it operates from 40 to 15 and on Wednesday announced lay-offs of 170 people as part of a wider cutback of 400 staff.

The appetite for air travel has dwindled amid growing fears over the deadly coronavirus, known as Covid-19.

A number of countries have restricted or outright banned entry for people who have recently been to mainland China – and in some cases also Hong Kong – including the United States, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines.

Located in the middle of HKIA, the futuristic, rectangular building, connected by 20 jet bridges, opened in 2015 at a cost of HK$10 billion to cater for the surging demand for flights around the region.

About half of the facility is now being used to park idle jets.

The daily number of passenger flights flying in and out of Hong Kong has dropped from 1,050 to around 340, with more flight cuts expected in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, HKIA handled 160 departing passenger flights, possibly the lowest since the 2003 outbreak of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), when air travel in and out of Hong Kong all but stopped.

This puts it on a par with Santos Dumont Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which handled 161 passenger flights on the same day. The second airport in Rio handles an annual average of 8.9 million passengers, while Hong Kong normally sees 71.5 million.

Hong Kong Airlines, backed by the HNA Group, had 14 departures scheduled from Hong Kong on Thursday, however, it is shrinking so much it is now the smallest local airline.

Meanwhile, HNA faces being taken over by the government of Hainan, the southern island province of mainland China where the indebted conglomerate is based, and its airline assets face being carved up among the country’s more financially secure “big three” carriers – China Southern, China Eastern and Air China.

Whether Hong Kong Airlines can continue to be operated is a growing concern by different controlling shareholders.

On Tuesday, HKA closed its flagship Club Autus airport lounge at the midfield concourse “until further notice” and its transit passenger facilities were moved to the main terminal.

The Airport Authority has been contacted for comment.

Last week, airport officials in Hong Kong mothballed a smaller terminal annex, the north satellite concourse, which has space for eight narrowbody jets, as the Cathay Pacific Group cuts to its capacity by 30 per cent up to the end of March.

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