New head of Civil Aviation Department has his work cut out

Simon Li Tin-chui’s first priority must be to get the airport’s ‘new’ air traffic control system up and running

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 1:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 1:15am

When Simon Li Tin-chui takes over as head of the Civil Aviation Department from his outgoing boss Norman Lo Shung-man, he will have his job cut out for him.

Few bureaucrats going into retirement like Lo can claim to have left behind such an enduring legacy, well, actually a big mess, for his successor to clean up.

Thanks to Lo and his senior team, some of whom have left the department, taxpayers have spent more than half a billion dollars on an air control traffic system upgrade that doesn’t work, yet requires more than HK$20 million a year to maintain.

Air traffic controllers at Chek Lap Kok are still using an outdated radar system that reached its use-by date in 2012 – the year the new system was supposed to be operational.

Li’s first priority must be to put together a competent team to get the new system, now actually an old one, up and running. It’s called Auto Trac III (AT3), which is built by Raytheon, a major military contractor and arms exporter based in the US. Why we paid top dollar for a system that at the time had no track record is something that probably only Lo has the full answer, and he isn’t about to tell us why. When Raytheon was announced the tender winner in 2011, only India and the United Arab Emirates had bought AT3.

Still the system became operational in a few major airports in those countries in 2011 and 2012. If India and the UAE could get it to work, why are we still hiring overseas consultants to help us figure it out?

Li needs to work overtime to put this shameful episode behind his department so the airport can get the air traffic system it deserves.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are calling for Lo to be punished, not only over the air traffic fiasco but his role in bypassing government procedures in the building of the department’s headquarters at the airport.

These included the building of an additional 1,500 square metre area, spending HK$67.45 million on security and electronic systems and installing expensive shower facilities in his office – all without government approval. It’s unlikely he will face any penalty, as the secretary for civil service has praised his contributions to the aviation industry and wished him “a long and happy retirement”.

At least Li will have a very comfortable office to move into.