Hong Kong aviation

Legco panel cautiously backs new air traffic system in follow-up to scathing 2015 report

Lawmakers from Public Accounts Committee visit Civil Aviation Department headquarters to learn about HK$1.56 million upgrade

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 4:00pm

After roundly criticising the city’s aviation regulator in 2015 for how it handled a HK$1.56 million air traffic management upgrade, the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee finally gave its cautious backing to the new system on Tuesday.

Lawmakers from the panel visited the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) headquarters, touring the new air traffic control centre and holding discussions with bureaucrats in order to fully understand the operations of the upgraded setup.

The visit was a follow-up to the committee’s scathing 2015 report on oversights which led to delays in the installation of the US-made Raytheon Auto Trac III. It was also timed so the performance of the system could be assessed after the Christmas and Lunar New Year holidays, some of the busiest periods for flight traffic.

Failings by the CAD and the Transport and Housing Bureau that caused the regulator to miss a 2012 target to commission the upgrade had been labelled “appalling and unacceptable” at the time.

Asked whether he felt more confident towards the new system after the visit, committee chairman Abraham Razack said: “I always had confidence in its operation. It seems that it’s working, and we haven’t seen any major problems.”

“[The department] has assured us that the safety issue is not a problem except there are some modifications [due] to the teething problems that need to be addressed,” he added.

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Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong, the committee’s deputy, said the panel would continue to monitor the system and its issues. In the meantime, members are awaiting a response from the aviation regulator on maintenance, costs and warranty information with regards to the system.

During the site visit, the lawmakers were shown real-life examples of glitches and problems with the system, and the department’s bureaucrats used the time to assuage doubts that problems such as aircraft disappearing from the radar or the duplication of flight symbols on screens were cause for concern in terms of aviation safety.

Sources familiar with the discussion said that while they accepted the CAD’s insistence that these faults were not a safety issue, the lawmakers still could not rule out the glitches being a problem. They urged the aviation regulator to win the trust of the public, whose confidence had been eroded thanks to the disclosure of system issues.

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The committee’s probe will continue through the year as it assesses the performance of the system at key times, including the summer period and in expectation of the coming typhoon season.

The system, built by US manufacturer Raytheon, went live in November 2016.

The Post reported last week that an interim report by a panel of aviation and engineering experts appointed by the regulator is expected in the coming weeks and is set to conclude that Raytheon is a “competent” company and has “ironed out the majority of the bugs” in the Auto Trac III system.

The CAD said it would not comment on the visit by the Public Accounts Committee.