22 February 2019
Hong Kong authorities are being accused of undue haste in introducing a new air traffic control system at the city's airport. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong authorities are being accused of undue haste in introducing a new air traffic control system at the city's airport. Photo: HKEJ

Govt faces questions as new ATC system flagged off at airport

Hong Kong on Monday officially launched a new air traffic control (ATC) system at the city’s airport, brushing aside concerns from some pilots about the readiness of the new arrangement.   

The HK$1.5 billion Autotrac 3 air traffic management system, procured from US defense company Raytheon, was put in operation in phases since June this year even though there had been major breakdowns during the testing phase.

With the system now going live, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is facing questions as well as strong criticism over the decision.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a newly-elected lawmaker who had once been a pilot, accused the CAD of being irresponsible, alleging that the department insisted on replacing the old system despite knowing that there were some bugs in the new one, Apple Daily reports.

Media reported earlier that two Cathay Pacific Airways planes almost had a head-on collision at Hong Kong International Airport in late October.

Citing people working at the air control tower, the reports suggested that the new system was to blame for the incident that could have resulted in a disaster.

But CAD told a different story, stressing that the incident had nothing to do with the new system.

However, Tam said it is clear that there are some problems yet to be resolved in relation to the new system.

The CAD should have made sure that the problems are eliminated, rather than hurrying to launch the new system, he said.

The Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association said earlier this month that it was concerned about the new ATC system.

While it admitted that Hong Kong needs to upgrade its old system, the association said it is not convinced about the new one’s capabilities in light of the breakdown in late October.

According to am730, the CAD demanded its staff to approve the new system and say it is ready to go, when they answered an internal questionnaire.

The paper cited a CAD employee as saying that many of them felt indignant at the request but dared not speak out since they were told that anyone who failed to follow the order could be denied promotions or even made to suffer pay cuts.

Learning about the alleged threat from CAD’s top management, Tam urged the government to investigate not only the air traffic safety concerns brought by the new system but also the CAD to see if any of its official was involved in misconduct in public office.

Responding to a query from am730, the department admitted that there it had indeed circulated a questionnaire among some of its staff.

But it said the move was nothing unusual and that it merely followed an international practice.

It stressed that the employees were absolutely not under any form of coercion or pressure in relation to their responses to the questionnaire.

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