My Take

Don’t leave passengers up in the air over traffic control system problems

Yet another glitch at one of the world’s busiest airports doesn’t inspire confidence. Our new leader can help by being completely transparent about the issues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 1:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 1:15am

I am thinking of not flying in or out of Hong Kong at the moment.

The latest glitch with our troublesome HK$1.5 billion-plus, state-of-the-art air traffic control system sounds downright scary.

According to the Civil Aviation Department, controllers lost information on the positioning and altitude of a large number of flights for 15 minutes. This doesn’t mean they had no idea where the flights were. The backup system worked – thank God! – so they could still maintain audio and satellite contact with aircraft.

Officials said planes over Hong Kong airspace and in and out of the airport were not affected. I suppose they were right, since no plane crashed.

Still, I am not putting my trust in a system, however advanced, that could lose track of so many flights for 15 minutes.

The incident happened less than a week after the system was given a clean bill of health by the department following a series of glitches and flight disruptions. Despite the positive assessment by an expert panel, problems identified included the inaccurate display of aircraft positions, disappearing flight plans on screens and a server disruption at the control tower. That doesn’t sound reassuring.

Hong Kong’s air traffic control system suffers another glitch

Officials explained that the latest problem was caused by too many controllers logging onto the system. That sounds like the IT systems in our office. But then, tens of thousands of lives don’t depend on hacks like us.

I have no way of assessing the validity of the department’s own expert conclusions. But I trust Jeremy Tam Man-ho even less, a lawmaker and self-proclaimed aviation expert who has been a constant critic of the Raytheon Auto Trac III system and the CAD.

I have flown all my life. That makes me an expert in collecting air miles, not in aviation, flight control or radar systems. I find myself in the position of many Hongkongers: I trust neither the government nor its critics.

What are we poor passengers to do? The same five-member panel of experts who have vouched for the Raytheon system are expected to produce a final report at the end of November.

I suggest they don’t just write their report for CAD officials, but produce a non-technical summary of key findings for the general public.

They should also brief lawmakers who might have legitimate questions for them.

How about some real transparency from the incoming government of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor?