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August 10th, 2012 at 9:45 am

Chek Lap Kok Airport — From “Atlas” by Dung Kai-cheung

Atlas, Dung Kai-cheungIn his novel, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Dung Kai-cheung writes from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. In the following excerpt, Dung mixes the real-life Chek Lap Kok airport with a fictional plan that would make the airport itself mobile:

The secret of the Chek Lap Kok Airport plan is now beyond the reach of anyone to uncover. The only clue that remains to us is a blueprint drawn up in 1990 of Hong Kong’s seaport and airport development, called “Construction for the Future.” This blueprint, which displays the development of port facilities in Hong Kong at the end of the twentieth century, includes sea-lane plans, container wharves expansion, and harbor reclamation projects. It also outlines the so-called new airport plan in documents and records, that is, the enormous concept that begins with the new Chek Lap Kok location of the airport on the north shore of Lantao Island and includes a range of developments such as the airport railway and residential, industrial, and commercial sites along the shoreline. It is worth pointing out that this blueprint emphasizes the importance of Hong Kong as a seaport and airport, by hinting at its two possible exits—by sea and by air.

Some people think, however, that the section on seaport construction in this “Construction for the Future” blueprint was only camouflage, its main purpose being a strategy for airport development. What was the ultimate point of this strategy? The superficial explanation is that the old Kai Tak Airport in the city center was already bursting at the seams, and since it had no way of meeting the needs of the city’s continuously expanding volume of air traffic, the only option was to build a new international airport. However, to the sharp eyes of scholars of strategic cartography, there was an ulterior scheme behind the construction of a new airport: what was being planned was by no means an airport in the traditional sense but a mobile airport. Their guess was that the plan for the airport was at the heart of an emergency contingency strategy. The point of this strategy was to cope with major catastrophes such as nuclear accidents, earthquakes, epidemics, or alien invasions. The original concept was to separate a section of the surface of Hong Kong Island from the earth’s crust and install a huge propeller on it, converting it into a mobile port, but this plan was later abandoned because the size of the project made it unfeasible. Mobility had all along been the central concept in the contingency strategy, because in a city that lacked the ability to defend itself in every respect, escape was the only way out in the event of disaster.

Where the airport in question was constructed on new land reclaimed from the harbor, the prospect of mobility was obviously quite close to reality. The expression “airport” actually means “a port in the air.” The “Construction for the Future” blueprint had a drawing next to the site of the airport at Chek Lap Kok of a three-dimensional schematic diagram of an airport rising to a flight path in the sky. In the lower left-hand corner of the map was a predicative table, showing that the capacity of the airport could reach forty million passengers by 2008, that is, six times the population of the territory. Given ideal conditions in the railway transportation system from the city to the airport, it was estimated that the total population could reach Chek Lap Kok airport in safety within three hours of an incident taking place and be aboard the airport after a further two hours as it moved away from the mainland. The airport’s flight and landing technology, its range and speed, and conflicts related to its movement in regard to airspace, land borders, and territorial waters were details that are so far unknown. No one even knows whether or not the airport in the end ever actually became airborne.

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