CONSTRUCTION of the airport and railway could be disrupted by a shortage of engineers and technical staff. Industry groups are warning the Government that up to 30,000 extra skilled people will be needed, more than double the number already working on the airport core projects. Both the airport and railway will demand engineers, architects and planners covering a wide variety of disciplines including structural, geotechnical, civil, mechanical and electrical work. All of these people will have to be brought in from abroad 'because there are not any in Hong Kong', said the secretary of the Hong Kong Electrical and Mechanical Contractors Association, George Todkill. The main reason is most of the work will be labour intensive building construction rather than civil engineering which is traditionally highly mechanised. 'Building construction soaks up staff far more than civil engineering work because of the need to supervise large gangs of workers. But on projects like the airport passenger terminal and railway stations the need is far greater because of the huge amount of work that has to be done,' a building company executive said. The association commissioned a report which showed there would be a shortage of 10,000 to 12,000 electrical engineers alone. Most of these would be needed for the airport projects. The shortage is particularly acute among electrical staff because the Government now demands all electricians should be registered. International construction companies have started to draw up contingency plans to overcome the shortage of skilled engineering and site supervisory staff. Several companies in Britain have started to interview staff to find out who is prepared to come to Hong Kong. 'We have got a pioneer group of about 100 people who can come out at the drop of a hat,' the managing director of one British contractor said. 'Then we have got more in the background who we know are interested, but they have not been properly interviewed yet.' His comments were echoed by other firms. Another construction chief said: 'We have a contingency plan to bring people out to Hong Kong because we are aware of the difficulties of getting qualified staff in the territory.' Aoki, the leading Japanese contractor, plans to bring staff from Japan initially, but if that fails it plans to recruit in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. 'We are now discussing how to recruit additional safety officers because there are not enough in Hong Kong,' said Aoki's project manager on its North Lantau Expressway contract, Shintro Toyota. He said Aoki, which is also set to build the station and tunnels at Tung Chung on the airport railway, has not decided yet how to fill the positions. 'We will bring them [engineers] over from Japan or recruit them in the UK, New Zealand or Australia,' he said. The shortage of skilled staff has been partly eased by the large number of expatriate construction specialists from Europe and Australasia who have been visiting the territory hoping to get jobs. 'We have employed several in this way because they are highly qualified and highly motivated,' the British managing director said. But both contractors and consultants, who will supervise the contractors on behalf of the Provisional Airport Authority and Mass Transit Railway Corporation, have partially welcomed the delay in agreement on the airport railway. 'There were fears the staff situation would get much worse if the airport and airport railway started at the same time. But the delay has eased this pressure,' one engineering director said. 'It means the engineering staff who did the design can now do some of the supervision, while specialist contractors, like air-conditioning installers and electricians, can progressively move from airport to railway work,' he added.