Despite fears, new air traffic control system to be launched at Hong Kong airport on Monday

Transport minister confirms the move as independent consultant says system did not crash during a test run

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 11:26pm

The city’s controversial new air traffic control system will be launched fully on Monday, despite recent technical failures and malfunctions.

But pilot-turned-legislator Jeremy Tam Man-ho criticised the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) for “forcefully putting the plan forward” and raised safety concerns.

The Transport Bureau made the announcement last night, saying a British independent consultant had confirmed that the HK$1.56 billion upgrade was “safe, stable and reliable” and ready to go.

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“The National Air Traffic Services (NATS)’ further confirmation on the CAD’s readiness for full commissioning is reassuring,” bureau chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said.

“Taking into account NATS’ independent advice, agreement has been given for the department to go ahead on the recommended date,” the minister said.

The new air traffic control system – the US-made Raytheon Auto Trac III – was bought in 2011 to replace Raytheon’s Auto Trac I, which has been in use since 1998, when the airport moved to Chek Lap Kok.

After facing more than four years of delay, the new system was scheduled to go live at the end of October but came to a halt because of glitches during a test run.

Last month, flight radar screens froze and malfunctioned. The CAD confirmed that there were “isolated” problems and launched a probe.

However, the NATS report said the system had been stable and no “system crash” had been observed at any time.

Despite the bureau’s confidence, Tam, who witnessed the new system running into trouble, said many frontline air control staff told him they were not confident about it.

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“Even before that, they thought there was not enough training for them. Now they are more worried.”

Tam asked the CAD to keep the original air traffic control system as a back-up until early next year.

“The peak season for flight traffic is coming at year’s end. No staff have used this system to handle such a great flight volume before. The department should therefore do more to rebuild public and staff confidence,” he said.

The aviation regulator earlier announced that 90 passenger flights a day would be temporarily halted from October 30 to November 26 to help air traffic controllers transition to the new system.

The bureau says the upgrade will enable controllers to handle 8,000 flights a day.