The Airport Authority has been forced to pay almost $2 billion to contractors to ensure Chek Lap Kok airport is finished on time. Under deals announced yesterday, the authority will pay two of the main contractors - the BCJ and AEH joint ventures - to ensure the April 1998 opening date. The payments are required because the authority was late in handing over areas of the terminal site to BCJ, which is building the passenger terminal. BCJ and AEH said the money was needed to allow them to speed up work. The authority claims the payments were the result of an ultimatum from the firms. BCJ, which comprises China State Construction Engineering Corporation, Kumagai Gumi (HK), and three other parties from Japan and Britain, will get $1.5 billion. The second agreement - worth $397 million and directly related to building services within the terminal - has been struck with the AEH venture. Authority chief executive Dr Hank Townsend said the delays in handing over the terminal area were due to record amounts of rain in 1994 and difficult ground conditions. Without payments to the contractors, there was 'always the risk' the terminal would not be finished on time, he said. Additionally, 'some design changes' were needed to ensure the airport conformed to the latest international standards, Dr Townsend said. The terminal is due to be finished in October next year. Airport Consultative Committee member Leung Kwong-cheong was concerned the bad weather excuse could open the floodgates for other payments. 'This factor should have been taken into account during the planning of the whole project . . . and it shouldn't be a problem faced by this project alone,' he said. Democratic Party legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip called for an emergency meeting of the Legislative Council's economic services and planning, lands and works panels. He said the $1.9 billion payment equalled about 20 per cent of the cost of the passenger terminal and showed the authority was failing to plan and monitor projects. But Dr Townsend said the authority was 'prudently within' its $49.8 billion airport budget. And because of low tender prices received for the terminal, the $1.5 billion payment to BCJ falls within the original estimates for the cost of the works. The $1.9 billion is the largest payout from the authority's multi-billion dollar contingency reserve, designed to handle unforeseen developments in the construction. The size of the reserve has not been disclosed, but some estimates put funds at $3 billion to $4 billion. The authority confirmed it faces a number of other claims from contractors, but they 'paled into insignificance' next to BCJ and AEH. Airport officials are confident the project will not require an additional call on funds. 'Something catastrophic would have to happen', project director Douglas Oakervee said.