Civil Aviation Department issues statement on press report about NATS

     In response to a press report today (February 14) which alleged that the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) had requested to engage National Air Traffic Services (NATS) as an independent consultant by a single tender in October 2015, had maintained a close relationship with NATS since 2009, and was in negotiation with NATS to become strategic partners, the CAD issued the following statement to set the record straight:

     NATS is a major international air navigation services provider in the United Kingdom (UK) which provides air navigation services to more than 10 airports in the UK and has provided consultancy services to various countries/regions to enhance the performance of air navigation services or aviation safety over the years. The CAD understands that NATS has also provided different aviation-related consultancy services to the Airport Authority Hong Kong and the local airlines.

     A CAD spokesman stressed that the CAD had never engaged NATS as its consultant for the operation of the new air traffic management system (ATMS). The CAD has engaged EC Harris, an independent overseas consultant, to provide safety assessment of the new ATMS to ensure that the contractor follows international quality standards in the process of system development. The CAD has elucidated the appointment of EC Harris to the Legislative Council Panel on Economic Development. It is necessary to clarify that NATS was appointed as an overseas consultant by the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB), as per the Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee’s recommendation, to evaluate and make recommendations on the system readiness and staff readiness of the new ATMS, and to give independent and professional advice to the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) directly. The CAD only provides information on technical aspects for the tender exercise concerned. The appointment process was wholly responsible by the THB. To safeguard the independence of the consultancy study, the CAD has not taken part in any meeting led by the STH with NATS on the consultancy study.

     The CAD understands that NATS promotes different forms of co-operation, including becoming strategic partners, with different countries/ regions from time to time to strengthen co-operation on air traffic control (ATC) and related services. Yet, the CAD and NATS have not entered into strategic partnership.

     With regard to NATS’ suggestion on the possibility of a phased functional implementation (PFI) of the new ATMS, the spokesman noted that it is an international practice to launch a new ATMS or other similar mega-project by phases, with due emphasis on ensuring aviation safety as an utmost consideration, and to minimise the possible risk on changes and potential impact on air traffic. When NATS received the CAD’s visiting delegation in 2011, NATS shared its experience in launching an air traffic control centre and an ATMS by phases. It was a general comment of NATS’ approach and international practice, but not pinpointing the specific circumstances of the new ATMS in Hong Kong. Besides, at the time of the visit in 2011, the new ATMS in Hong Kong was still in a development phase (three months after the contract was formally awarded). No consideration had been made on the transition work. The case was different when NATS suggested a PFI approach to the implementation of the new ATMS in 2016 when it had fully reviewed the overall development of the new ATMS by the CAD and the readiness of the frontline staff after training, and had evaluated the external factors, such as weather.  The so-called CAD’s informed source as quoted in the report was trying to lump two separate issues together. The CAD has once considered a “big-bang” approach before launching the new ATMS. Taking into account NATS’ recommendation to THB, a PFI approach was adopted.

     The new ATMS is designed to meet the latest international standards on technical, safety and ATC operational requirements. The CAD conducted a series of stringent acceptance tests on the new ATMS on a par with international aviation safety standards and established Government procedures, as well as to ensure that the system operation was in compliance with contractual conditions and safety management requirements. The efficient performance of the new ATMS has been unanimously recognised by the staff unions representing the serving frontline staff of the CAD and the expert panel. The successful handling of the recent record-breaking flight movements also proves the effective operation of the new system.

Ends/Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Issued at HKT 23:13