A strong regulatory framework to govern a privately-controlled Chek Lap Kok would be the key to the success of the privatisation plan and guarantee the airport's role as a motor for the Hong Kong economy, workshop participants heard yesterday. But government officials could not tell the audience of industry professionals, at the event sponsored by the International Air Transport Association, whether controls would be developed for the airport in time for its privatisation, tipped to take place in 18 to 24 months. Julian de la Camara, the Geneva-based IATA's director of user charges, said Hong Kong had to establish a regulatory mechanism before privatisation, to 'ensure just and reasonable charges, timely and cost-effective infrastructure development, and good service standards'. He said that while there have been many successful airport privatisations in recent years, there had also been disasters with governments seeking a quick fix to plug mounting budget deficits without taking into account the complex issues involved. 'We believe that the privatisation of the airport must not give a monopoly a licence to print money at the expense of the greater Hong Kong economy,' he said. When asked if the government could develop such a framework in the run-up to Chek Lap Kok's privatisation, Wilson Fung Wing-yip, Deputy Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, said the government was undecided whether to take the privatisation route. But he said if it did, then care must be taken to balance regulatory controls to give the airport enough freedom to succeed as a commercial enterprise while protecting the interests of all stakeholders. 'We will introduce measures that require the privatised airport to take public consultations before setting new user charges. This is now done on an ad hoc basis ... and [is] not required' by the rules governing the Airport Authority, he said. Other participants at the workshop echoed Mr de la Camara's views. The managing director of Credit Suisse First Boston's global transport and logistics group, Michael McGhee, said investors would pay more for shares in the airport if they had a clear formula for how charges were set in the future and were convinced of the sustainability of its pricing regime. Warren Mundy, director of Bluestone Consulting and a key player in the privatisation of Australia's airports, said that ultimately, the key question was how to get airports and airlines to work together to solve their problems and secure a better outcome for passengers.