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TIACA ACF: Hactl looks ahead to coming changes

By control on October 5, 2012

The new year will bring a number of changes for Hactl. In addition to finally getting serious about a new venture, HDHL, which seeks to export the Hactl brand from its base at Hong Kong International Airport to other Asian airports, officials are preparing for the loss of their biggest customer, Cathay Pacific Airways, said Mark Whitehead, the firm's managing director.

"Next year, the game-changer comes in the form of Cathay moving out, but it’s something that we’ve anticipated and known about for a very long time," Whitehead told Air Cargo World during an interview at the Hactl booth during the TIACA ACF. Whitehead said that when Cathay moves its operation into its new terminal early next year, the dynamic at HKIA will completely change.

"You cannot replace Cathay with a new customer; it’s too big of a player," he said. "My priority is to make sure that we maintain existing customers." Whitehead added that there have been a few new customers flying into HKIA, but there haven't been nearly enough to fill the void that will be left by Cathay.

"We have to gear the company up to be at the right size for the lesser volume," he said. "That’s a priority. There’s no point in carrying a higher cost base than you need."

Whitehead said Hactl should end the year with just more than 2.7 million tonnes, which is partly a reflection of increased Asian transshipment activity. Tonnage to Europe is down, but activity to the U.S., which had been a bit sluggish, will end 2012 with about the same numbers as 2011, Whitehead said.

The Gulf carriers, he said, are doing well, and in a year that had basically mirrored 2011 as far as tonnage, September finished with a small gain. "All in all, I’ve got no complaints with this year; I think we’ll end up all right," he told Air Cargo World.

Maintaining customers and streamlining operations are goals, but growth is still very important for Hactl. The HDHL program — which is still in "early days," he said — will try to spread Hactl's influence throughout Asia. The goal is to introduce everything from consulting services to new joint ventures and straight-forward investments to other airports.

Of course, the main opportunity for growth at HKIA is the third runway, which has been approved, in principle, by the airport's CEO and has received support from the public. The current development stage includes environmental impact assessments, which should take 18 months. Assuming the environmental studies don't bring up any issues, Whitehead said, the runway, once development starts, will be open in 10 years.

A decade is a long time to wait, but Whitehead said that a third runway is absolutely necessary to ensure the continued health of HKIA and, it goes to reason, the growth of Hactl at the airport. But Whitehead can see that other airports in the region might seek opportunity in the 10-year lead time. Airports in the Pearl River Delta like Shenzhen and Guangzhou, he said, will most likely try to draw as much business as they can from Hong Kong during the development stage. But ultimately, the only way forward is a third runway.

"I’d be extremely concerned if [a third runway] didn’t happen because then you don’t have any growth potential," he said. "You can’t grow with the airlines if they can’t land there."

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