Pilot moots joint traffic control plan

AN American aviation expert says air traffic converging on three new airports in the Hong Kong area - Chek Lap Kok, Shenzhen and Macau - could be co-ordinated from a single facility.

Because of the tremendous growth in air traffic in China and the region, former test pilot Jim Reed said the technology was available to solve the problem.

''How Hong Kong, Macau and China choose to do that has to match the political realities, but safety goes beyond politics,'' he said.

Citing the example of the terminal radar approach control (TRACON) system that controls Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark airports from a single facility in the New York area, Mr Reed said a similar system could be used for the airports of the region aroundHong Kong.

''The TRACON system lets you control the traffic safely from all of the airports from a single facility even if their flight paths overlap. The aircraft at LaGuardia don't conflict with aircraft at Kennedy,'' he said.

''You could control the arriving and departing traffic from Hong Kong, Macau and China, also from a single facility, and it does not have to be at the airport,'' he said.

Mr Reed is director of business development in Asia for Paramax Hong Kong. A former US Air Force test pilot, he has logged more than 4,500 flying hours in 55 different types of aircraft.

Paramax is a wholly owned subsidiary of Unisys Corp, which is the primary provider of air traffic control (ATC) systems in the US.

Mr Reed said there were only a few companies in the world which could provide multiple radar data processing - processing the data from several radars and making it appear on a screen.

''Chek Lap Kok has to have a system that will ensure flight safety in what is a very difficult flying area,'' he said.

''You have Chek Lap Kok and Macau with runways in which, if you were not careful, you could have conflicts in the traffic pattern. They are taking care so that they don't have it but, as traffic increases, to continue to have flight safety you have to make sure that you have an understanding of the total picture of air traffic in the region to avoid these conflicts,'' he said.

New York experienced the biggest and most complex air traffic control problems in the world. New York originally had control for individual airports, and traffic overwhelmed the facility.

''We think that a system for Chek Lap Kok that is based on the systems used all over the US would provide flight safety. Such systems have been proven in operation, and yet are expandable to the new air traffic control systems of the future. It's a flight-safe but worry-free scenario,'' he said.

The New York City TRACON is located on Long Island, off the airfield, and lies halfway between Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. It is operated by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department (CAD) will be sourcing a $10 million to $15 million US radar data processing display system.

Mr Reed said that over the next few years China would need to replicate the entire US air traffic control system.

''Conflicts are solvable: what it requires is someone who can work with multiple radars and multiple airports and who has already experience in that type of a system,'' Mr Reed said.

''The challenge is to take data from a lot of sources, display it to a decision-maker in a way in which he can make a decision, and give him the means for making that decision.

''You may have a few hundred aircraft and these calculations are going on all the time for every aircraft, as that radar data comes in. It's a sophisticated problem,'' he said.

''I can see a future in which the present system at Chek Lap Kok can be integrated into a regional system of some kind that provides safety, not only for the individual airport, but to the airports of the region.'' Prior to joining Unisys five years ago, Mr Reed served as chief of the Air Force Division at the US Embassy in Bangkok from 1987 to 1989.