Airline considered Macau as last resort

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 1998, 12:00am

Worries over the lack of telecommunication facilities on airport opening day had not been addressed by the then Airport Authority chief executive, Hank Townsend, an airlines representative said.

This prompted Virgin Atlantic Airways to consider landing planes at Macau airport as a last resort, the Legco inquiry heard yesterday.

Mark Siladi, deputy chairman of the Board of Airlines Representatives in Hong Kong, said facilities critical to airline operations were still missing on June 12.

In a letter to Dr Townsend, the board urged him to intervene after the authority's airport management division made clear that it had no power to get the project division to fix the problems.

'The lack of telecommunication facilities are airport readiness issues . . . while every understanding of the gravity of these problems seems forthcoming, the necessary actions from the projects department are still lacking,' the letter said.

Mr Siladi, also regional general manager of Virgin Atlantic, said its aircraft were prepared to use Macau airport as a contingency plan.

Some other airlines opted not to operate on July 6, he said.

'But we didn't receive a response from Dr Townsend.' Mr Siladi said the authority had never raised the alarm that the flight information display system, which failed to perform on the opening day, had all along been unstable. The visits of President Jiang Zemin and his US counterpart Bill Clinton and the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant in the passenger terminal also delayed fitting-out airline offices, he said.

'Surely the visits had an impact because of tight security requirements.' Earlier in the day, the Chek Lap Kok ramp operators told legislators that no contingency plans had been drawn up in the event of an information system failure.

'Our impression has always been those were minor problems and would be fixed by the authority,' said chairman Allan Kwong Kwok-hung.

Although authority officials said there were plans to fall back on the use of white boards for flight data display, Mr Kwong said the decision was apparently made instantly during an emergency meeting on opening day.