Hong Kong aviation chief defends new air traffic system as airport resumes full flight schedule

Between October 30 and November 26, about 90 flights a day were cut to accommodate switch to Auto Trac III

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2016, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2016, 3:51pm

The head of the Civil Aviation Department has again defended the integrity and safety of the new air traffic control system at Hong Kong International airport, which will resume normal scheduling on Sunday after a month-long reduction in flights to accommodate the switch.

But Director-General of Civil Aviation Simon Li Tin-chui believes the system, which the department has admitted to have seen more frequent technical glitches since it went live about two weeks ago, will require another six to 12 months to “fine tune and optimise”.

Pilot-turned-lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho revealed last week that at least six flights had temporarily gone missing from the radar since the system began full operation, with one disappearing off the screen for two minutes soon after take-off.

Hong Kong aviation chief admits ‘more frequent’ glitches with new air traffic control system

The department had earlier admitted only that the disappearance lasted for about 12 seconds.

When asked about the two-minute error on a television talk show on Sunday, Li said “it should not have happened” and added that the hiccup could have been caused by “bad radar signals”.

Li said: “The problems we encountered over the past two weeks were not related to the system. [It was caused by] external radar signals which had to be input into the system ... those were not good signals, so the system could not process them.

“This happened in the old system too.”

He noted that the HK$1.56 billion Raytheon Auto Trac III system – commonly identified as AT3 in the industry – had two fail-proof backup systems which met the 99.9 per cent reliability standard as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

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Asked why the implementation of AT3 was pushed back for two years, Li said it was not uncommon for the switching of air traffic control systems to be delayed as problems had to be reported to the manufacturer for follow-up action.

“The United Kingdom experienced a delay of six years, and three years for Singapore also,” he said, giving overseas examples to back up his claim.

As for suggestions that the department should improve its transparency by publicising incident reports filed by carriers under the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting scheme, Li said this was not feasible as those reports involved “sensitive and private” information.

Starting on Sunday, the new system will handle the normal amount of traffic at Hong Kong International Airport. Between October 30 and November 26, about 90 flights a day were axed to help air traffic controllers make the switch to the new system – an 8 per cent cut to overall traffic.

Li said he was fully confident of the new system’s ability to handle the increased number of flights as it had undergone testing at full traffic load back in June.

He added that extra manpower had been deployed to deal with the upcoming holiday peak season.