Hong Kong aviation

Hong Kong aviation chief tries to allay flight fears over new air traffic control system

‘We don’t expect more issues’, Christmas travellers told after glitches

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 10:44pm

The aviation chief is confident there will be no Christmas flights chaos at the city’s airport in the wake of problems arising from a new air traffic control system.

Director-General of Civil Aviation Simon Li Tin-chui dismissed suggestions flights for the peak holiday season would be disrupted following glitches in the HK$1.5 billion system.

On Tuesday, in the worst incident, flights leaving the airport were halted for 15 minutes.

“We do expect issues which need to be optimised. However, we don’t expect more issues coming up,” Li said on Thursday.

Raytheon, the US manufacturer of the system, confirmed the failure of a key piece of technology, which is at the heart of giving real-time aircraft information to controllers.

Li said the findings of the company were consistent with the initial analysis of the Civil Aviation Department.

He said an air traffic controller had first encountered problems when trying to retrieve information from a flight data processor.

Data from the backup processor had not been synchronised
Simon Li, on disruption to flights

This resulted in the safety mechanism being activated, and a standby processor switching on.

“But data from the backup processor had not been synchronised and such a procedure needed some time to complete,” Li said. “This delayed the display of flight information on the radar screen.”

He said the incident “absolutely” did not involve human error, but admitted conducting the procedure from the backup processor would be better from a risk management point of view.

In the long run, software changes would be implemented to enable the synchronisation of the two processors to be carried out without affecting operations.

A five-member panel has now been formed to advise the department on further glitches that may arise.

Its members include former department chief Albert Lam Kwong-yu, Professor Hau-chung Man, dean of the faculty of engineering at Polytechnic University, and Marc Houalla, director-general of the French Civil Aviation University.

“The panel will meet from time to time to receive updates on the operation of the new air traffic control system and provide objective opinion,” Li said, with the first session possibly taking place before the end of the year.