Hong Kong police promise clearer signals during Xi visit after anti-terror technology jams air traffic radio channels

Alarm raised after interference from force’s vehicle in recent security operations affected aviation communications

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 5:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:18pm

The Hong Kong police force promised better communication with the aviation authority ahead of the expected July visit of President Xi Jinping after an anti-explosives vehicle apparently jammed radio channels designated for flight operations on Sunday.

The vehicle was deployed when Indonesian President Joko Widodo was in the city.

A police insider said the customised vehicle could also block other bands, including mobile networks, to stop terrorists activating remote-controlled bombs.

“We had notified the Civil Aviation Department in advance about the possibility that its communication system might be jammed when the vehicle passed by the airport and AsiaWorld-Expo. We asked them to take counter measures,” the source said.

“The scenario could happen again during the visit of the Chinese delegation in July. So we will communicate better with authorities in advance and figure out what they can do to minimise the effect on them.”

The issue came to light after a Facebook user claiming to be an air traffic control employee with the department said on social media that “all bands” had been jammed, and that the noise from the interference had “deafened” controllers.

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A Chinese-language newspaper reported that mobile networks went down briefly when the police van passed journalists waiting at the airport for the arrival of the Indonesian leader. The networks resumed shortly afterwards.

The vehicle belongs to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau and was last seen in public when National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang visited the city a year ago.

It is believed that Xi will visit Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule on July 1, and to oversee the swearing-in of the new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The department confirmed Monday that its facilities had encountered brief radio interference on Sunday afternoon, but said flight operations at the airport were not affected.

It added that it had notified the Communications Authority for follow-up action, which was standard procedure.

If critical communication is affected, a [flight] incident could happen
Jeremy Tam Man-ho, lawmaker

An authority spokesman said that it had received notice from the department about the interference on Sunday night, adding that its facilities in Victoria Peak had been also intermittently jammed.

The authority sent workers to the site but they did not detect any interference.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a former pilot, said he would write to the authority to request an investigation and public explanation.

“If critical [air traffic] communication is affected during the interference, an incident could happen,” he said.

Tam said it was reasonable for police to jam aviation radio channels during security arrangements for VIPs, but he believed the force should clarify the limits of its authority in using the vehicle.

A police spokesman said close contact with concerned government departments or bodies would be maintained and efforts made to minimise disruption to the public.

But he did not disclose further details about what had happened, saying the van’s operations could not be compromised.