The COVID-19 pandemic evolved rapidly during the year of 2020-21 and has brought severe challenges to the aviation industry. Staff of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), upholding professionalism and strong dedication, worked hand in hand with the industry stakeholders and practitioners to overcome difficulties and plan ahead to prepare well for the recovery of the aviation industry.
Under the impact of the pandemic, the number of travelling passengers around the world plummeted. The aircraft movements and passenger throughput at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) experienced a year-on-year drop of 66% to 127 700 movements and 99% to 0.83 million respectively. Fortunately, the cargo throughput was on a steady rise, with a 26% growth in the cargo flight movements and 4.56 million tonnes of cargo throughput recorded.
During the period, the CAD doubled its efforts to ensure a safe, efficient and sustainable air transportation system and work closely with the aviation industry in coping with the market changes under the pandemic. These included deploying extra manpower resources to facilitate the processing of flight applications from airlines. During the year, the CAD handled and approved applications for about 23 000 extra sections and charter all-cargo flights. The requirement of 80% slot usage for retaining slots in the next equivalent International Air Transport Association season would be further suspended for the Winter Season 2021 to provide airlines with greater flexibility in aircraft deployment and business planning. The CAD also actively took part in video conferences related to tackling the problems brought by the pandemic and the recovery of the aviation industry organised by different civil aviation organisations.
Apart from coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic with the industry, the CAD has made remarkable achievements during the year, such as full implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s policy direction on air cargo security. With the active collaborations of various stakeholders in the air cargo industry, over 130 Regulated Air Cargo Screening Facilities have been recognised by the CAD for conducting air cargo security screening at off-airport locations. A transitional arrangement was implemented from January 2020 to June 2021 to increase the screening percentage for Hong Kong's export air cargo to 100 per cent in phases. The successful implementation as scheduled not only enhanced Hong Kong’s overall screening capacity for export air cargo, but also strengthened the air cargo security, maintaining our status as one of the most secure air cargo hubs in the world.
During the year, the CAD continued to put forward the regulatory regime for the operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA). The Small Unmanned Aircraft Order (SUA Order), a subsidiary legislation under the Civil Aviation Ordinance (Cap. 448), will regulate SUA operations under a risk-based approach. Based on the weight of the SUA and the operational risk level, SUA operations will be subject to the corresponding regulatory requirements on registration, training and assessment, equipment, operating requirements and insurance. The SUA Order will commence in June 2022. A one-stop electronic platform will be launched for the public to register, make applications and access safety information. The CAD has also been working with various training organisations on a pilot scheme to validate the SUA training syllabus and assessment criteria. I believe that the new regulatory regime can foster the innovative development and application of SUA in tandem with evolving technology, while safeguarding aviation and public safety.
The CAD has geared up to prepare for the commissioning of the new runway at HKIA in 2022 and the completion of the Three-Runway System (3RS) in 2024 as planned. These included recruiting and training more air traffic controllers to meet the future demand for air traffic services and support the future 3RS; managing various 3RS-related air traffic improvement projects; and working closely with the Airport Authority Hong Kong on the 3RS- related projects and other airport facility development projects to ensure their compliance with aviation safety and security requirements.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China has agreed to commence preparation for the provision of cross-boundary commercial helicopter services between Guangdong and Hong Kong, which will enhance the internationalised business environment in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). Together with relevant government bureaux and departments, the CAD will continue to maintain close contact with the Mainland counterparts and support and facilitate their work, with a view to enabling the aviation industry to grasp the opportunities brought by the GBA development.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges to the global aviation industry, I believe that crises can be turned into opportunities with our concerted anti-epidemic efforts, our competitive edges and the opportunities arising from the GBA development. I am confident that our aviation industry will see the dawn of recovery and achieve new heights.