By all accounts, it’s a tough time for Hong Kong right now. The city has long been a central hub for Asian banking and global commerce, but massive pro-democracy protests in response to poor local government and increasing Beijing influence brought violence and unrest to a city known for peace and prosperity. The unrest, which has largely died down now, has not come without consequence. Airlines are now slashing away at routes and schedule frequencies as demand plummets all around the world…
United Airlines was the first to slash away, discontinuing its Chicago-Hong Kong flight entirely. In other markets, the airline chose to downgrade the route by operating smaller planes, or reducing the frequency in which the planes fly. For local carrier Cathay Pacific, things haven’t been any better. The airline was forced to discontinue its relatively new Dublin route, while cutting one of the daily flights between Hong Hong, Paris and Frankfurt. New York, Vancouver and Washington DC all saw cuts as well, as reported by SCMP.
The big problem: these cuts were made during “peak” travel time. It’s only going to get worse.
Hong Kong experiences some of its largest visitor numbers in August, but travellers opted to go elsewhere, with an estimated 850,000 fewer travellers travelling through the city in August, which represents a 12.4% year over year decrease. What’s even more alarming, Chinese tour groups are down 90% in September already. One key to being a global financial hub? Flights.
Aviation is a key to Hong Kong’s long term position as a global financial hub, and maintaining direct flights to key markets around the world is essential to the city’s long term success. In addition to these broader needs, The South China Morning Post cites that aviation supports 330,000 jobs in Hong Kong, and over 10% of the city GDP. So how do you get airlines to keep flying when passenger numbers are dismal? Waive the fees.
The Hong Kong Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) has formally requested that the airport waive many of the excessive fees charged to airlines for take off, landing, passenger handling and other elements of each flight. At present, it costs an airline roughly $14,000 to land a Boeing 777-300er, or other large scale aircraft in Hong Kong. Temporary relief – heck even a discount- could help the economics enough to maintain continuity on many vital routes, while the city recovers.
It remains to be seen what the government chooses to do in response to these fee waiver requests, but it’s hard to imagine just how impacted Hong Kong’s aviation and broader travel and business industries will be if things are left on their own, particularly as we enter the weakest travel demand times of the year.