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October 14th, 2011:

Wing and a prayer

Clear the Air says:   and this is before the current building of the midfield Chep Lap Kok airport extension is completed and then the Government CX , HACTL and DHL  want a third runway ………………….?

Hong Kong Standard – 14 Oct. 2011

Wing and a prayer

Phila Siu
Friday, October 14, 2011

Look up and listen and it’s almost certain there’s an aircraft arriving or leaving Hong Kong International Airport. Like its passengers, you will assume – if the thought even occurs – that besides its pilot and crew an aircraft is in the good care of controllers as they track it on screens in their Chek Lap Kok tower.

It’s probably because the fallout from anything less than 100-percent performances in the tower is so horrible to imagine that few people other than air crews actually get to thinking about controller performance. But we should all be wondering and perhaps fretting about what’s going on in the tower now that details of near misses in Hong Kong airspace have come to light.

If disgruntled personnel in Air Traffic Control are close to the mark, a human time bomb has long been ticking in the tower – “the lion’s den,” as some pilots call it – and near-misses brought to light in an investigation by The Standard give new lift to calls for remedial action on controller rostering.

Controllers complain about a lack of staff in the tower and unreasonable working routines that lead to fatigue. Pilots say it’s reflected in declining standards among the people they depend on above most others.

Against them, top managers in the Civil Aviation Department say there are enough well-rested controllers to meet the traffic demands at what ranks as the world’s 10th busiest airport, where passenger traffic reached five million in August and 28,940 planes landed and depa

rted in the month.

On paper, there does seem to be enough controllers to look after all of us who fly. Overall strength at present is around 165 “active” controllers in three sections: tower, approach and area control.

There are also between 40 and 50 seasoned controllers in project groups and evaluation and training units. (Gender, it should be noted, does not count in this job, with women comprising about 40 percent of overall strength.)

But something was lacking on September 18, a day when Hong Kong people’s long and easy acceptance of air travel as a sure way to get around would have been tested to breaking point if technology had not been in the hands of pilots at the top of their game.

For on this day there were two near- miss situations – meaning aircraft came close to collisions – above us. Two Cathay Pacific wide-bodied Boeings and a Dragonair Airbus were involved.

As one controller tells it, it was a day when there was just not enough personnel in the tower. The situation became so bad that a supervisor and a watch manager had to sit in front of screens when they should have been shouldering broader responsibilities on a rainy, windy day.

Making the situation worse, it’s said, was the fact this was a Sunday, meaning a lack of support personnel who on any other day could and should have been alerting senior managers elsewhere in the complex that the people in Air Traffic Control were having trouble living up to the sign on their door.

It was close to 1pm when calm control gave way to something close to chaos, with pilots on approaches or in holding patterns waiting longer than expected for landing instructions. Some reported fuel tanks getting worryingly low as they circled and awaited landing clearances for Hong Kong, others sought to divert.

That was when Cathay Pacific flight CX841 from New York almost crashed with Dragonair KA433 from Kaoshiung, passing each other at a distance of 1,850 meters.

By aviation measures that’s dangerously close when you take account of speed, but a collision was avoided because one aircraft climbed and the other descended thanks to the automatic activation of onboard avoidance systems.

Former Civil Aviation Department chief Albert Lam Kwong-yu estimates they were six seconds from a likely disaster. “The chance of a crash is absolutely high,” he says of the speed and distances between the aircraft. Although they didn’t know it “the passengers really came back from hell.”

More than 600 passengers and crew members were on the two planes.

Yet new danger was roaring in for the people on the Dragonair flight. A few minutes after the near miss with CX841 more avoidance action was required of KA433 to get clear of another Cathay Pacific flight, CX347, arriving from Beijing. This time the distance between aircraft was about 7,000m.

The stress brought on by the first near miss saw the controller concerned having to be relieved by a supervisor. And after the supervisor handled the second near miss she decided that she herself needed to be relieved.

The series of near-misses have sparked an uproar of criticism among controllers and pilots, who have aired their discontent on an aviation forum PPRuNe Forums, throwing even more light on the situation.

In seeking to fend off claims from controllers that fatigue must be taken into account when looking at such incidents, a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Department talks of the staffing situation on September 18.

Normally, she says, there are perhaps eight controllers in the tower, but on September 18 there were 13 because of the bad weather.

And the controller involved with the first near-miss, who has worked in Air Traffic Control for over 14 years, was fresh from a day off, so fatigue was unlikely to be a factor.

She also pointed to the department having well-worked contingency plans for emergencies such as the danger of a mid-air collision. They include a controller applying radar-supported disciplines and instructing aircraft to take specific headings away from each other and to change altitudes while still feeding data to the crews concerned.

But a Standard request for a transcript of tower recordings on the events of September 18 was rejected as it would be inappropriate and “also not fair to the involved parties for any part of the evidence or data to be released to a third party during the investigation.”

A controller tells The Standard that the problems of September 18 have been a long time in the making, and like colleagues he claims a shambles in the leave and days-off system in a 10-day cycle is the cause.

Controllers must work more than the required or recommended hours each month, he says, and many cannot enjoy proper annual leave or count on rest days.

And controllers cannot look to a union to fight for their interests, he adds. The last union president seeking a better deal on conditions quit the office after being faced down by seven senior managers.

The on-off roster system can be hard to figure, that’s for sure.

A 10-day roster should include three days off in a system that has three shifts. A controller can expect to work on all shifts over the 10 days, though with many variations.

One particularly sore point, the controller says, is that if someone is granted two days of annual leave during a 10-day cycle they will then be rostered on for two of the normal rest days. “They end up working the same amount of hours that month as everybody else. Bizarre!”

In principle, controllers work the same number of hours as any other civil servant who has a 42-hour week. But controllers are not Monday-to-Friday, daytime-only workers.

Annual leave is another source of strain. Some longer-serving controllers qualify for 40.5 days of annual leave, but low down the scale it’s two weeks.

Then there are some expatriate controllers who would like to save some leave until the end of a contract but are forced to take it all annually, while young local staff might apply for leave but have to wait until what’s owed is close to the legal limit.

Extreme case

Many controllers are said to have accumulated the legal maximum of six months of untaken leave and up to 400 hours for days worked when they should have been resting. One was actually owed more than 10 months off in leave, though that’s an extreme case.

“Any aviation specialist will agree that it is vital for pilots and controllers to have a long break of two to three weeks away from work at least once a year – preferably twice,” the controller says.

But the CAD spokeswoman says claims that controllers face problems about taking time off are “incorrect.”

In the last five years, she says, 85 percent of long-leave applications – that is, more than 14 days – have been approved.

In addition, 3,543 leave days were approved to 155 operational control staff in the first seven months of this year. On average, a controller had 22.8 leave days during the seven months. The controller who provided much of the inside story on the Chek Lap Kok tower claims that managers play with numbers to come up with this satisfactory-looking picture.

He also says the fact that some colleagues lack skills should be put down to many experienced controllers leaving “because of dissatisfaction with management, only half the salary of what they can earn overseas and the generally poor working conditions and atmosphere in Air Traffic Control.”

Frozen salaries

On pay, he claims that salaries have effectively been frozen since 1997 – a year before the opening of the airport at Chek Lap Kok. A student air traffic control officer starts on HK$16,855 a month while a senior operations officer makes between HK$82,975 and HK$95,595.

Pilots, meanwhile, continue to make their feelings known about what comes out of the tower, or what doesn’t.

One said that many pilots are becoming increasingly frustrated because some controllers appear to lack an understanding of how air traffic works.

There can be an uncomfortably long wait for instructions, he added, though he accepted that could also be due to controllers being overworked in an understaffed tower rather than a lack of skills.

There is also concern about the Civil Aviation Department trying to keep some matters under wraps – such as not offering information about the September 18 incidents until after The Standard pushed for it. (Top officials in the CAD had said previously that people should be kept in the dark about most aviation-linked incidents as it would be “inappropriate” to go public with much information about mishaps.)

There were about 500 incidents carrying classifications from “minor” to “serious” from January 2009 to April this year. Details of about 29 were made public.

And while we have yet to hear of all the lessons that may have been taken to heart after September 18, there has been one change in manpower in the tower after that frightening day.

A “contingency roster” – a boost in manpower – can now be brought into play in response to bad weather or other testing scenarios.

“It sounds very good, but the problem is that the controllers they are making available are from management,” says the tower insider. “They are not up to speed and could cause more problems.”

Roger, over and out. For now.

Hong Kong Air Freight Falls 7.8 Percent

Clear the Air says: Foxconn (Dell / Apple / Sony / HP manufacturer) already moved out since the PRD is now too expensive to be competitive :  HKIA relies on the PRD for its aircargo exports: UPS courier Hub and also SZ courier are  Shenzhen airport based, which  just opened its 2nd runway and is building a third – Shenzhen is the obvious choice for a subsea fast rail link to HKIA to connect to domestic flights within China: Guangzhou airport is the Fedex Hub and intends to expand to 5 runways: Chongqing (where Foxconn just reopened) is building a railway link (14 days to Europe) and an extra airport runway: Beijing South new airport will open in 2017 with 9 runways (one for military use) and the other Foxconn factory is now in Wuhan: meanwhile  AAHK has already commenced its Chep Lap Kok midfield expansion and owns 51% of Zhuhai airport venture which has no international flights so it needs the HKZM bridge and ……… ah yes HK Government , Cathay Pacific and DHL tell us we need a third runway to handle all the already dwindling airfreight that will move to Shenzhen and Guangzhou instead. Meanwhile the Chinese military controls airspace within China including allocating additional slots within the PRD that would be mandatory for any extended HKIA operation and HK Air Traffic control is already woefully understaffed.

Hong Kong Air Freight Falls 7.8 Percent

Mike King | Sep 19, 2011 1:38PM GMT

The Journal of Commerce Online – News Story

  • ·        China

Sixth straight year-over-year decline comes as volume falls from July to August  Weak demand from Europe and the U.S. in August pulled Hong Kong International Airport’s traffic down 7.8 percent from the same month last year, the sixth consecutive month of decline.  Freight volume also fell 3.5 percent from July to August and the 319,000 metric tons was the lowest level since February, a troubling sign for the Asia gateway heading toward the peak fall shipping season.  Overall flight movements hit a high of 28,940, up 6.7 percent year-over-year during the month, but freighter operations fell 6.4 percent from a year ago and fell 3.5 percent from July.

Exports in August fell 11 percent year-over-year at the world’s largest cargo airport, while imports and transshipments fell 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Cargo traffic to and from Europe, North America, Taiwan and Japan had double-digit year-over-year decreases via HKIA during August. The 2.6 million metric tons handled at the airport so far this year is 3.6 percent lower than the same period in 2010.

The decline in HKIA’s cargo fortunes was even more pronounced at the airport’s leading cargo handler, Hong Kong International Airport Air Cargo Terminals. HACTL said exports fell 13.3 percent year-over-year to 117,771 metric tons in August. The airport operator handled a total of 221,375 metric tons in August, down 9.3 percent compared to August 2010. The airport total handling from January to August fell 5.6 percent year-over-year to 1,785,140 metric tons. Export volume in the same period totaled 940,067 metric tons, down 8.6 percent year-over-year.

— Contact Mike King at

China’s small firms see profits disappear
By Olivia Chung
HONG KONG – A large proportion of small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Pearl River Delta region of south Chinaexpect no profit over the next six months due to rising material and labor costs and shrinking overseas orders, a recent survey shows.

This delta is one of China’s two leading industrial centers – the other is the area around the Yangtze Delta, where a credit crunch has caused many company bosses in the city of Wenzhou to flee.

The survey, concluded in September, covered about 3,000 SMEs that have revenues of less than 30 million yuan (US$4.7 million), including firms based in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Their average profit has already dropped

30% to 40% from last year, the survey showed. While small companies have played an important part in China’s economic growth, the fiercely competitive environment means that they generally survive on very thin profit margins.

Zhou Qiren, director of the National School of Development of Peking University, which conducted the survey with Alibaba Group, the country’s biggest e-commerce company, said more than 70% of the respondents expected zero profits or minor losses in the next six months, while 3.29% anticipated huge losses or even a shutdown.

The respondents blamed the profit drop on rising material costs and a decline in overseas orders. They have already seen orders fall 30% from a year ago due to weaker demand from the United States and the unsettled debt crisis in the eurozone, and challenges from cost-competitive suppliers from Vietnam and India.

“The economic downturn in the US and the debt crisis in the eurozone sour consumer confidence, casting a cloud over the outlook for manufacturers, most of whom are exporters, in the Pearl River Delta. Thus the prospects for the businesses look even worse than during the global financial crisis at the end of 2008,” Zhou said.

Only 33% of respondents were producing at full capacity, and up to 27% had been working at half capacity this year, Zhou said.

According to the findings, the average price of raw materials paid by SMEs had risen by between 20% and 50% from a year ago, while labor costs were up 20% to 30% on average. The survey quoted an extreme example of wage increases of more than 100% from last year for high-tech technicians.

“The price of raw material for thick cotton underwear has gone up by about 80% to 45 yuan from a year earlier, which has eroded profits by 40%,” said Feng Jiang, general manager of Dongguan Xiqing Fashion Co. “That’s why we have downsized production capacity this year and sought orders with a shorter production cycle.”

The company, based in Dongguan, a heavily industrialized city in Guangdong province, has annual sales of about 10 million yuan, and about 25% of its products are shipped overseas. “Due to the reduced production, we have had to cut production hours and are thinking of laying off some employees,” Feng said.

China’s manufacturing contracted for a third month in September, extending the losing streak to the longest since 2009 as export demand declined, the HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index showed at the end of September. The index stood at 49.9 in September, unchanged from August, making it the third consecutive month that the index has been below 50, a reading that indicates contraction.

Qu Hongbin, chief economist for China at HSBC, said in a research note that the debt crises in the US and the eurozone had dampened global consumer confidence for Chinese goods, leading to a slower expansion of the nation’s exports. In the first half, exports contributed nearly zero to the growth of China’s economy, while gross domestic product (GDP) rose 9.7% in the period.

GDP may grow by 8.5% to 9% this year, and stay at that level over the next few years, Qu estimated. This compares with 9.5% growth in this year’s second quarter compared with a year earlier, 9.7% in the first three months and last year’s 10.4%.

Chinese exports grew 24% year-on-year to US$874.3 billion in the first half, compared with 35.2% growth during the same period of 2010, according to the General Administration of Customs. Year-on-year export growth has been declining month-by-month during the first half, dropping to 17.9% in June from 37.7% in January.

The best solution to the downturn was to lower corporate tax rates while maintaining a prudent monetary policy, which would also help ease inflationary pressures, Peking University’s Zhou, who is also an adviser to the People’s Bank of China, told Asia Times Online.

Zhou rejected calls for a relaxation of monetary policy to help SMEs, saying the excess liquidity would push up prices and the extra money would be grabbed by big enterprises.

Wenzhou, a private-sector hub in Zhejiang province on the Yangtze Delta, plans to launch a 200 million yuan fund to support SMEs after about 100 debt-laden entrepreneurs fled in the first nine months of the year due to their failure to pay loan sharks, according to a report on Tuesday in the China Securities Journal, citing an unnamed official.

Feng echoed Zhou’s views, saying local authorities should cut taxes. “Apart from 17% value-added tax and 25% corporate tax, we need to pay city construction tax, local education development tax, land tax, property tax and so on. These taxes pose another big challenge to the SMEs earning meager profits,” Feng said.

Olivia Chung is a senior Asia Times Online reporter.

Shenzhen airport confirms expansion plans

South China Morning Post – 14 Oct. 2011

Third runway and fourth terminal needed by 2040 as increases in passengers and freight drive growth

A Shenzhen municipal official yesterday confirmed plans to build a third runway and a fourth passenger terminal at Baoan airport by 2040, helping the city to compete with Hong Kong as a regional air hub.

Shenzhen airport is planning to open its third passenger terminal by the end of next year following the opening of the second runway in July.

The third terminal is intended to help meet Shenzhen’s forecast capacity of 45 million passengers by 2020. It will be connected to the existing terminals by underground passenger and freight links. Once open, it will handle check-ins, arrivals and departures from terminals one and two.

Terminals one and two were designed to handle 15 million passengers. But passenger throughput reached 26.7 million last year, Shenzhen vice-mayor Zhang Wen said yesterday.

Outlining revisions to Shenzhen airport’s 2020 master plan, Huang Min, the director-general of the transport committee at Shenzhen municipality, said the “ultimate goal” included developing an airport that could handle 63 million people by 2040. This included a third runway parallel to the second runway and a fourth terminal between the two runways. New cargo facilities are also planned, which would boost airfreight capacity to two million tonnes per year.

“In the long term, the existing freight area will be integrated and a new freight area will be built in the north side of terminal 4. By then, 4.5 million tonnes of freight throughput will be met annually,” Huang told about 300 airline and airport executives at the China air cargo summit.

The revisions to the earlier master plan were carried out by the China Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group and NACO, a Dutch airport planning consultant for the city’s transport committee, and the Shenzhen Airport (Group).

Wang Xianping, a general manager of airport advisory firm GCW Consulting, said there was no timeframe for developing the third runway or fourth terminal.

He said the runway was likely to be financed by the airport group or the municipality, adding officials thought the terminal could be built under a public-private partnership. This could involve possibly domestic and international funding development of the terminal in exchange for a long-term build-and-operate concession.

GCW is involved in a mainland programme that envisages the development of 45 airports by 2015 to take the total number to 220.

Huang said terminal three would have a ground transport centre that would contain metro and mainline stations, including an interchange for the planned Hong Kong-Shenzhen airport express railway and the Guangzhou-Dongguan-Shenzhen intercity railway line.

Outlining the benefits from the airport’s expansion, he said estimates showed a million passengers generated 1.16 billion yuan (HK$1.41 billion), while every 10,000 tonnes of freight produced 196 million yuan of social and economic benefit.

Huang said Shenzhen airport handled about 800,000 tonnes of freight last year, up 185 per cent from 2009. This followed the opening of the UPS Asia-Pacific cargo hub and the arrival of courier firm SF Express.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said cargo volumes this year had been hit by sluggish economic prospects in Europe and North America and a slowdown in domestic cargo. Cargo volumes in the first nine months grew by just 1.1 per cent.

But Chen Fanhua, a general manager of Shenzhen Airport, forecast cargo volumes could exceed 1.3 million tonnes by 2015, of which 650,000 tonnes was expected to be air express cargo. “By 2020, we may handle one million tonnes of air express.”