The head of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) has said that malfunctions with the new air traffic control system are unavoidable and understandable. His comments on Friday came after an expert panel meeting.

“[The experts] pointed out that, due to the complexity of the new air traffic system, it is unavoidable that there are some abnormality and unforeseen circumstances during its initial operations,” Simon Li Tin-chui, director-general of the CAD, said.

He added that his department has a set of established mechanisms to cope with different situations, and said that the malfunctions have not compromised aviation safety.

Simon Li Tin-chui, head of the Civil Aviation Department. Photo:

The new system has been in full use since November 14, but it has run into several problems since it was installed.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a pilot and a lawmaker of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said there have been multiple cases of the so-called “ghost aircrafts” appearing on the radar. On Monday, it was revealed that flight data such as flight numbers and aircraft speed disappeared from radar screens for 75 seconds before reappearing. Air traffic controllers grounded outbound flights for four minutes as a precautionary measure.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Li explained the incident happened because engineers had failed to follow guidelines. He added that all new systems would need go through a period of optimisation.

In early December, CAD made a police report after a local newspaper obtained a leaked radar image from the new system. A spokesperson from the Airport Development Concern Network – a group opposing the construction of the third runway – called the CAD’s action preposterous and said they would ask the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate this incident.

Tam has also accused the CAD of hiding glitches from the public and hunting down whistleblowers rather than addressing the malfunctions.

The expert panel, which comprises academics, electronics engineers and representative of air traffic controllers, was founded early this month after glitches were reported. It will research improving the system and is expected to release a preliminary report in March or April.

Eric Cheung

Eric is currently a Bachelor of Journalism student at the University of Hong Kong. Eric has his finger on the pulse of Hong Kong events and politics. His work has been published on The Guardian, Reuters and ABC News (America).