PROVISIONAL Airport Authority (PAA) chief executive Hank Townsend appears to have two answers to questions about whether Hong Kong's new airport will be completed on time: a public and a private one.
When he addressed a Europe-East Asia meeting of the World Economic Forum yesterday he toed the official line, exuding confidence over the PAA's ability to keep to the timetable.
But afterwards, he privately conceded that delays in completing the mega-project by mid-1997 could be possible should Sino-British political wranglings over its financing drag on much longer.
It is becoming clear that if the row over financing for construction of the airport terminal at Chek Lap Kok and its connecting railway drifts on past Christmas, it may take a miracle to complete the development for its scheduled opening on the eve of June 30, 1997.
Aviation industry leaders in Hong Kong have every confidence in the ability of the PAA, but no matter how much funding the PAA secures, time is something you can not buy.
''We want very much to be in a position for work to begin of laying the foundations to the airport terminal by March,'' Mr Townsend said.
Most pressing of all in the PAA's eyes is the granting of contracts for laying the foundations for the 1.2-kilometre $15.4 billion airport terminal, plus the driverless train in its basement.
If work on these projects does not begin by March 1994, the development's whole construction timetable could be thrown beyond reach.
The Hong Kong Government has so far been able to grant the PAA only $9.7 billion - enough to finance the giant reclamation scheme, design work and headquarters expenditure, but little more.
Reclamation work is well on schedule with contractors shifting an equivalent amount of earth every two days to fill the Empire State Building.
Mr Townsend said bankers had been very tolerant of the PAA's difficult situation and were ready to grant the necessary loans as soon as Beijing's approval had been secured.