A rift between the Airport Authority and the Government over the two-month delay in opening Chek Lap Kok was revealed yesterday as key witness Dr Hank Townsend blamed the late launch for problems that plagued the airport opening. The inquiry into the opening fiasco was told the Airport Authority lobbied the administration to stick with a late April opening, which was the initial deadline, rather than postponing it. In his first day of evidence before Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing, authority chief executive Dr Townsend said the decision to open on July 6 caused work to slow. Wong Po-yan, the chairman, was adamant they should proceed with the April launch date right until the day before the Government's January 13 announcement of the July opening. 'The chairman's view was that a retreat from that date would affect the credibility of the authority and also Hong Kong,' said Robert Ribeiro SC, representing the body. Dr Townsend said the delay meant contractors, franchisees, licensees and tenants 'relaxed to varying degrees and the project lost some momentum'. 'The scheduled completion of some works to be completed by other parties slipped closer to the new [airport opening day]. Also works ready for handover to tenants were not taken over on a timely basis,' he said. The inquiry is probing the factors behind the July 6 chaos - stranded passengers, a cargo breakdown, lost baggage and faulty flight display monitors. Chek Lap Kok's delayed opening was blamed on the fact that the MTR airport express line was not ready until June. Concerns were also held about the readiness of air cargo operator HACTL, which was planning to operate at half of its capacity, Dr Townsend said. In the most revealing evidence yet about the behind-the-scenes-differences between the Airport Authority and the administration, a government lawyer said Chief Secretary for Adminstration Anson Chan Fang On-sang sought to prevent the authority's board from holding a vote on its preferred opening date. This was because six of the 15 board members were senior administration officials. Mrs Chan had dinner with Mr Wong to discuss the issue, said Ronny Tong SC. 'She didn't want a split decision,' said Mr Tong, for the Government. Mr Wong had even written a letter to the administration the day before the July opening was announced urging it to keep to the April schedule, he said. Dr Townsend estimated the cost to the authority, which would be responsible for operating Chek Lap Kok, of the delay was more than $1 billion in lost revenue and maintenance costs. Dr Townsend is expected to continue giving evidence today before the inquiry.