Opening date considered 'set in stone'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 December, 1998, 12:00am

Cargo handlers had no choice but to open SuperTerminal 1 on July 6 because the date was 'set in stone', despite being some six weeks before its contracted opening.

Lawyers for Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (HACTL) submitted the company had no option but to move ahead with the opening regardless of having no 'soft opening', or full live load test, for the facility and the airport. No evidence was forwarded during the inquiry that HACTL failed in its pledge to get the terminal operating under its 'best endeavours' agreement.

HACTL, despite the time constraints, was confident the terminal was ready to run on opening day but it did not foresee the 'crippling nature of events' which brought the terminal to a halt, paralysing freight handling.

It claimed outside causes were to blame for the problems. It alleged ramp chaos had been caused by procedural problems with staff of ramp handling companies and said the failed flight information system also affected the terminal's operations.

'The external factors; primarily a lack of a soft opening, HACTL's belief the opening date was cast in stone, and the lack of flight information, and ramp chaos, all of these affected HACTL's internal cargo handling operations.

'To suggest HACTL should have had a contingency plan for a total breakdown is unrealistic. HACTL had no alternative but to try to meet the airport opening, they have done what they could and have indeed used their best endeavours to get the terminal ready.' HACTL's counsel, led by John Griffiths SC, said the only fair criticism which could be attributed to the company's staff was a mistake to switch to manual control by operators in the terminal.

The operators were working under immense pressure and in a chaotic situation caused by outside events.