The proposed relocation of Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) is once again under the spotlight. Discussions on the issue can be read on the Internet, with some netizens asking why politicians have to meddle and push for moving the airport.
The overlap between the controlled airspace of Songshan airport and that of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is well-known — the Civil Aeronautics Administration has confirmed it.
The overlapping zones require air traffic controllers at both airports to work closely on every flight that takes off or lands at either facility. Due to air traffic controllers working under unnecessary pressure and with the added factor of human error, near misses or more serious incidents are likely to eventually occur.
Fortunately, such situations rarely happen, but with controllers having to coordinate landing sequences, aircraft are often forced to circle while waiting for clearance, which increases fuel usage and air pollution.
Closing down Songshan airport does not mean that Taipei is foisting one unwanted guest onto another. The move would enhance the safety of Taoyuan airport by preventing potential accidents. The move would also leave air traffic control duties for commercial airliners in northern Taiwan exclusively to Taoyuan airport, reducing fuel consumption and air pollution.
Some might ask: Why not shut down the Taoyuan facility instead?
There are inherent limitations with the Songshan site.
Firstly, the effective length of primary runways is only 2,500 meters, or 2,605 meters according to Songshan Airport’s figures. Neither of these conform to the standard prescribed in ICAO ANNEX 14 for the landing and departure safety of big aircraft, which is why additional guiding facilities had to be set up.
Second, Songshan airport fails a requirement that surrounding buildings must be lower than an imaginary slope, known as the conical surface, of a 20:1 gradient extending on all sides upward and outward from the outer limits of the airport for a distance of 1,219m.
In other words — irrespective of the situation at Taoyuan airport — since Songshan airport's primary runway cannot be extended and nearby tall buildings will not be demolished, the fact is that Songshan Airport does not meet international aviation safety standards. The operations of the airport actually puts aviation safety and the safety of Taipei at risk, so whether or not to remove the airport is not just a matter of simply foisting that unwanted guest onto others, it is a matter of aviation safety and the safety of Taipei and New Taipei City.
Regarding the Taoyuan facility, the land on which Terminal 3 is to be built is within the airport itself and has nothing to do with the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, so land requisition is unnecessary.
The Terminal 3 project has passed an Environmental Impact Assessment and the blueprint for its construction was decided late last month, with construction expected to be completed by 2020.
However, the debate over a third runway is utterly unnecessary. No matter how many runways there are, aircraft almost never remain on them for longer than two minutes. The world’s busiest airports — Dubai International Airport and London Heathrow Airport, both of which handle more than 70 million passengers per year — only have two runways.
For a long time there was only one runway at the Taoyuan facility, but the airport is capable of handling 30 million passengers per year.
As it is to have two runways in operation again, there is no apparent need for a third runway. The development of Taoyuan airport and the Taoyuan Aerotropolis is worth further discussion, but Songshan should go.
Chien Li-yi is an adjunct lecturer at the Center for General Education at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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