PLANS to recruit foreign air traffic controllers for the opening of Chek Lap Kok airport have come under fire. Recruitment and retraining of controllers for the new airport are to start next year and expatriate workers may be hired if not enough locals are ready. Kai Tak airport controllers and new recruits cannot start training until a $4 million simulation system is installed in April. The Confederation of Trade Unions said the situation was typical of the Government's lack of planning. There was 'no excuse' for not being able to fill the positions with locals. 'If they knew of this change of systems the controllers should have commenced training long ago,' legislator and confederation chief executive Lee Cheuk-yan said. 'With the high unemployment situation we should be recruiting locally. People want secure jobs like this. I doubt if it is difficult to train enough locals in time for the opening - we still have 21/2 years,' he said. 'If the training systems at the airport are not ready why aren't these people being trained overseas?' The Civil Aviation Department said the 220 controllers serving Kai Tak would be increased by half to work on the $26 million state-of-the-art air traffic control system at Chek Lap Kok. It will be manned 24 hours a day. Deputy air traffic general manager, Alex Au Kang-yuen, said he was confident training would be completed by mid-1997. He said operators would be brought in 'bunches' to Chek Lap Kok before its opening for training. 'The main thrust is to gain local controllers but if there is a shortage of adequately trained locals we will have to hire from overseas,' Mr Au said. 'We have a very comprehensive plan for recruitment and training will take several months [for each batch]. 'We hope training will be finished more than half a year before the airport opens, so if local recruits cannot fill all the posts we will look overseas.' Secretary for the Air Traffic Controllers Association, John Wagstaff, said he believed local controllers were not concerned about foreign workers. 'For at least the past 15 years there have been expatriate controllers working here under contract, there is a very good working relationship between local and expat staff,' he said. 'Employment of expatriates does not affect promotion opportunities for locals because foreigners are contracted on specific terms.' The simulators will train operators on terminal radar approach and control tower operations for Chek Lap Kok using an eight-screen, 360-degree view of the simulated airport. Construction of the $360 million, seven-storey air traffic control complex and its 80-metre control tower is expected to be completed next December.