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Hong Kong aviation

Hong Kong appoints new chief air accident investigator to run independent authority

Darren Straker, who was the UAE’s top air accident investigator for five years and a former pilot, will head the newly created Air Accident Investigation Authority

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 7:16pm

Hong Kong has appointed a former top investigator in the United Arab Emirates’ civil aviation authority to head its new office conducting investigations into accidents in its airspace.

Darren Straker, a former pilot who was the UAE’s chief air accident investigator from 2012 to 2017 started his new role on Monday.

He is Hong Kong’s first chief inspector of accidents under the newly established Air Accident Investigation Authority, reporting directly to the city’s Transport and Housing Minister Frank Chan Fan.

Investigating air accidents was previously done by the director of the Civil Aviation Department but two years ago the industry’s global body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, recommended an independent body conduct such investigations instead.

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Aviation professionals suggested that civil aviation authorities might not be objective enough if accidents were the fault of their staff members.

An announcement from the Transport and Housing Bureau on Monday said Straker was hired in an open recruitment exercise.

Chan said: “Mr Straker is a seasoned aviation professional with extensive international experience of air accident investigation and safety management.

“I have confidence that he will be able to lead the new authority to rise up to the challenges ahead and bring our aviation safety management to new horizons.”

Besides being a commercial pilot, Straker worked at Airbus in aircraft design and flight safety management before joining the UAE’s civil aviation authority in 2010.

David Newbery, president of the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association, representing about 3,200 pilots, supported the creation of the new office.

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“One of the functions of an air accident investigation is, when appropriate, to look at the regulatory environment and air traffic services,” he said. “With the CAD carrying out accident investigation, there could be a conflict of interest when investigating these factors, which would not happen with a truly independent accident investigation.”

“If investigators are taken from within the CAD, then CAD is left short-staffed while these people are being used for accident investigation. So, we welcome the setting up of an independent air accident investigation authority and look forward to helping them in their work if we can be of any assistance,” Newbery said.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a commercial pilot, said the aviation industry had been pressing the CAD for an independent investigation body even before the International Civil Aviation Organisation made the recommendations in 2016.

“In some countries, the aviation investigation body reports directly to the country’s president. Now the new Hong Kong body reports to the transport minister and not the chief executive. It’s not the most ideal, but it’s better than not having this new body at all,” Tam said.

Dr Law Cheung-kwok, head of the Aviation Policy and Research Centre at Chinese University, said the establishment is an assurance to international travellers that, when it comes to aviation safety, Hong Kong has adopted international standards.

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In September last year, a cargo plane veered off course and narrowly avoided hitting a Hong Kong mountain by just 204 metres. The plane was warned of the danger at least three times in two minutes.

In August this year, the city’s HK$1.56 billion air traffic control system suffered another malfunction, after the system went live at the Hong Kong International Airport in November 2016.

The “momentary hitch” lasted six minutes but the CAD insisted the incident did not affect aviation safety.

Some air traffic control staff were left flying blind as radar screens for three aircraft did not show full information, except for their flight position, altitude and secondary surveillance radar code, the identification code assigned to planes.