The man responsible for running Hong Kong's new airport has abruptly resigned just as the operational side of the project becomes critically important. Anthony Watson will leave his post as operational director of the Airport Authority at the end of next month, having resigned a matter of weeks ago. Despite rumours of a breakdown in relations between Mr Watson and other directors, his departure was by 'mutual agreement', Airport Authority spokesman Phillip Bruce said. Mr Bruce would not comment on talk that Mr Watson had been forced to leave. No decision had been taken on whether a replacement would be sought because a possible restructuring might make the position obsolete, Mr Bruce said. The post of operational director is regarded as one of the three most senior positions at the authority. Pending a new appointment or management shake-up, commercial director Chern Heed is expected to assume Mr Watson's position. 'Mr Watson has performed a critical job in setting up the operational and planning systems for the new airport over the past 21/2 years,' Mr Bruce said. The Airport Authority is beginning to merge its operational division with the Civil Aviation Department's (CAD) Airport Management Group, which manages Kai Tak airport. CAD staff have been offered posts within the Airport Authority to manage Chek Lap Kok when it replaces Kai Tak from April 1998. 'The Airport Authority is becoming less construction focused and more of an operational-based organisation,' Mr Bruce said. It was possible that the role of operational director would be redesignated. 'We will consider those areas of work [performed by Mr Watson] and see how they can best be covered,' he said. Industry figures said tension existed between the experienced Kai Tak management group at the CAD and the Airport Authority, which has full control over the operational side at Chek Lap Kok. Mr Watson could not be reached for comment. His departure was abrupt by the standards of senior Airport Authority staff. Finance director James Dundas - who will leave shortly - gave six months' notice.