HUGE cuts will be made in the number of staff working in the Airport Authority's project division over the next 18 months as the construction of the new airport nears completion. About 1,400 engineers, technicians and other staff at Chek Lap Kok - nearly 90 per cent of the workforce - will leave, according to a confidential memo seen by the Sunday Morning Post. The notice, written on Friday by project director Douglas Oakervee, shows most people will go between November and August 1998 when about 800 people will either have their contracts terminated or not renewed. Four hundred will go between March and May 1998. This corresponds with the planned completion and opening of the airport next April. There will be another sharp slide between August and November 1998 when a further 500 people will leave. By this time the second runway and northwest passenger terminal extension should be substantially finished, if not operational. The largest number, those in continuous employment, will be laid off, but the figures also include personnel who are on fixed-term contracts and will leave once they expire. The project division presently employs about 1,700 staff, mostly highly skilled and experienced civil engineers and builders, to oversee construction of the airport. But by March 1999 only about 100 people will be employed in the division. Mr Oakervee acknowledged that some of those made redundant could transfer to new airport operations departments. 'Recruitment for the Airport Management Division has now commenced . . . At the same time, openings in the airport maintenance department approved for recruitment have also been advertised,' he said. 'Further opportunities are expected to arise within the permanent engineering services and facilities areas.' But insiders said the overall number of successful candidates was expected to be small because virtually all those in the project division have a construction rather than airport operations and maintenance background. They said it was the first time the authority had given such precise details. They added, however, that it was always known that project division staff would be let go as the main airport construction came to an end.