Staff tried to minimise airport delays despite dreadful weather

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 12:01am

I refer to the report on the recent disruptions to airport services caused by extreme weather ("Airport set for third day of holiday chaos", May 25).

As one of the busiest passenger airports and the busiest cargo airport in the world, Hong Kong International Airport handles more than 1,100 flights each day. This represents over 90 per cent of the current maximum daily capacity of 1,200 flight movements. With the airport operating at such a high volume, extreme weather inevitably causes service disruptions. If adverse weather conditions continue for an extended time, these disruptions can snowball, resulting in a large number of flight delays or cancellations and a longer recovery period.

The weekend of May 23-24 saw the hoisting of amber and red rainstorm alerts. The airport was struck by lightning during the storms, and issued periodic warning signals resulting in intermittent suspensions to apron operations. This affected activities including baggage handling and aircraft refuelling, which in turn delayed flight departures and baggage reclaim.

Passenger, worker and flight safety are of paramount importance at the airport. During bad weather, the safe separation distance between flights must be extended, resulting in reduced hourly handling capacity. Such weather patterns may also have a significant impact on departure paths, and mild impact on arrival paths, creating an imbalance in arrivals and departures that can force aircraft to wait on taxiways for access to parking stands.

Further complications arise when lightning warning signals are issued, as all apron operations such as ground, ramp and baggage handling services are suspended to ensure the safety of airport staff.

During the flight disruptions, the airport community worked together to implement contingency measures. Special notices were issued via public announcements, flight information display boards, and the airport's website and mobile apps. Airport Authority staff liaised with the media to provide passengers with additional channels of information.

More than 100 additional workers - including airline employees, authority staff, ground and ramp service staff, and government personnel - were deployed. Also, service hours were extended for airport facilities, including automated people movers, immigration counters, security checkpoints and catering outlets. The authority also liaised with transport service providers and taxi operators to extend their service hours and offer additional trips for passengers.

Facing inclement weather is never a pleasant experience. We trust the public understands that the airport community spared no effort to minimise inconvenience to passengers.

Steven Yiu, acting general manager, airfield, Airport Authority Hong Kong