Trade Development Council executive director Fred Lam Tin-fuk has been appointed the next chief executive of the Airport Authority, where he is expected to be reunited with his present boss, Jack So Chak-kwong, who will become chairman in a year.
Lam, 56, will replace Stanley Hui Hon-chung, who will leave on July 14 - seven months before his contract was to have ended. Executive director Ng Chi-kee will serve as acting chief executive until Lam takes over in October.
Yesterday's announcement came amid a controversial high-level reshuffle at the authority after the early exit of its chairman, Marvin Cheung Kin-tung.
Cheung left after a high-profile row with authority member Vincent Lo Hong-sui, who succeeded him as its chairman, over the use of a site at the northern end of the airport.
Lo, chairman of developer Shui On Group, is regarded as a supporter of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
He was made authority chairman this month but will serve only one year and then swap jobs with So, the Trade Development Council chairman.
Lo said Lam was chosen from more than 100 candidates.
He said that among Lam's main tasks would be pursuing the airport's expansion plans, including a third runway and the planned development of a commercial district at the northern end of the airport island.
Lo declined to comment on speculation about a cost overrun on the planned third runway. Reports have said the estimate of its cost has been revised upwards from an initial HK$130 billion to HK$200 billion.
He said the authority would hire a consultant to look into details of the plans.
To avoid a conflict of interest, Lo also said his Shui On Group would not bid for projects related to the third runway or the north commercial district.
Despite Lam's lack of experience in aviation, Lo said there was "no one in the world" with the experience and knowledge the authority would like.
"We want someone who knows airport operations, civil aviation, construction and management. We chose Mr Lam because of his rich experience in the Trade Development Council and his commitment to Hong Kong."
Lam said: "I travelled a lot during my days in the Trade Development Council, especially in the past 10 years. It allowed me to get a deep understanding of the importance of the airport to Hong Kong's economic development."
He agreed that Hong Kong could not afford further delays in expanding the airport.
Lam joined the trade body in 1986 and became a deputy executive director in 1993. He was appointed executive director in 2004.
Hui has led the authority since 2007. He stepped into a storm of public criticism last year after a media exposé that he changed the evaluation system in the middle of accepting tenders on two retail spaces, resulting in one of them going to the second- highest bidder.