Ask most pilots in the world if they have heard of Kai Tak and the answer will be "yes". Its' famous curved approach to Runway 13, close to the buildings and surrounding hills of the Kowloon Peninsula, is in aircraft simulators, both military and civil with every major operator in the world. Most airlines have very strict criteria before they will allow their crews to operate at Kai Tak (Hong Kong International Airport) and for those aircrew who only fly here 2 or 3 times a year, I have the utmost sympathy, as they try to cope with wind-shear, weather and close terrain along with complex approach and missed approach procedures. The next year is going to be a momentous one for Hong Kong with the hand-over to China on the 1st of July this year, and for controllers here, the additional event of the move to the new airport at Chek Lap Kok in April of 1998. The opening of the new airport also means the closure of Kai Tak, and with it, the closure of one of the most unique airport environments in the world.
Because of this I thought it would be timely to write about ATC in Hong Kong, the operating environment, equipment, procedures and working conditions. I will first, however, write about the history of Kai Tak, the current status and the future. In the next few months I hope to write another article about the new airport and how ATC is coping with planning, training and equipment for this huge project.
The first flight into Hong Kong was by balloon at the site of the Happy Valley RaceCourse on January 3rd 1890. The first powered flight was made by a Belgian by the name of Charles Van den Born on March 18th 1911 in a Farman biplane at Shatin (about 3 N.M. North of where Kai Tak now is). The next flight of an aircraft into Hong Kong was not until 1915 in a floatplane to be followed in 1919 with a flight of an aircraft from Happy Valley, which crashed in a timber, yard. After the First World War there was a steady increase in flying activity with operations from various parts of the Territory. In 1922 a Mr. Ho Kai & Mr. Au Tak formed the Kai Tak Investment Company with the object of reclaiming part of Kowloon Bay for building purposes.
In 1924, a private group, later known as the Hong Kong Flying Club, started flying in earnest by developing a grass area about 300 x 400 metres to serve as a flying school and aero club. The portion of land was rented by the club from the investment company on reclaimed land and became known as Kai Tak. In 1927 the military started flying operations from there, where the Royal Navy operated Fairy Flycatchers. In 1936 a civil part of the aerodromAfter the Second World War, when British forces re-occupied Hong Kong, the military initially looked after the aerodrome. In 1946 the Civil Aviation Department was formed to regulate civil aviation and Kai Tak operations. They inherited an airport with two runways, one 4686' and one 4755' in length. Although concrete, they were poorly constructed as they had been built by prisoners of war, who had deliberately sabotaged their work. Weight limitations had to be imposed on aircraft using them. The runway positions were also a limitation as each could only be used in one direction for landing and the other direction for take-off due to the very close proximity of the 2000' range of hills, which run along side the airport. 1946 also saw the recommencing of operations by BOAC and the airline Cathay Pacific commenced operations. e opened at the western end of the Kai Tak reclamation. This heralded the first public transport flights to and from Hong Kong when Imperial Airways commenced flights on March 24th of that year. 1937 saw Pan American Airways commence operations with Sikorsky S-42B flying boats, a company called Eurasia Aviation extended flights from Beijing to Canton on to Hong Kong and Imperial Airways extended their operations to the UK and Australia. Imperial Airways became BOAC and in 1940 suspended operations due to problems in Indo-China. In December 1941, all civil operations at Kai Tak ceased due to the Japanese occupation. The Japanese occupation led to the expanded development of Kai Tak from a 180-acre grass field without runways to 380 acres with 2 concrete runways 13/31 & 07/25.
In 1947 the responsibility for ATC was handed over to the Civil Aviation Department and the controllers operated from the RAF Tower. VHF and HF radios were available as well as DF equipment and some navigation aids. There were 5,500 movements that year and 82,000 passengers and 1000 tons of freight carried. In 1948 the staff moved to a new control tower. From 1947 until 1952, traffic steadily built up and a number of world airlines commenced operations. Due to the severe limitations of the two runways, the Government decided to look at options for a new airport. After extensive survey work, it was decided that the best and cheapest option was to build a single runway on reclaimed land in Kowloon bay on the Western edge of the current airport. This would enable Hong Kong to be able to take jet aircraft. To save money approval was only given to build the runway 8000' long. This was false economy as in 1970 approval had to be given to increase the length at great expense to the present 11,130'.
The new runway was 13/31 and was positioned to enable aircraft to be able to depart straight ahead on RWY13 with a curved approach for landing, or straight in RWY31 with a curved track for departure. The new runway was officially opened on September 12th 1958. The old runways were closed and now form part of the apron, cargo complex and maintenance area. Because of the position of the new runway, a temporary tower was built near the runway and was in operation until 1962.
The mid' 50s saw the first recruitment of local controllers as assistants. Our immediate past Director of Civil Aviation, Mr. Peter Lok, who retired just over one year ago, was one of those first assistant controllers.
In 1959 the lighting system came in to operation allowing night operations and with the new runway, jet operations were on the increase. In 1960, work commenced on the new terminal building. In 1962 the ATC Centre, located on the 5th floor of the new building, where it still is today, and the new Tower at the end of the terminal building right above the ATC centre, were moved into. The then latest in ATC equipment was available to controllers including Precision Approach Radar to help pilots in bad weather on both approach & departure. The PAR is still in use today, in an updated form of course, and Kai Tak is one of the few civil airports in the world with this equipment.
By 1966 traffic and freight were increasing steadily. There were around 1,000,000 passengers and 25,000 tons of freight through the airport.
1970 saw the first landing in Hong Kong of the B747, on April 11th. How times have changed. I think Hong Kong must now have one of the highest proportions of 747's to total movements of any airport in the world. 1970 also saw the commencement of work on the runway extension, which was completed in 1974. The entire length of the runway was grooved. One of our problems here at Kai Tak is the runway promontory width. It means that the parallel taxiway is very close to the runway. 111 metres from the centreline of the taxiway to the centreline of the runway. IFALPA have a black mark against Hong Kong for this reason and we have instructions in place governing the use of the taxiway. ie. no more than 3 aircraft on it at any one time - a sterile taxiway if an aircraft is landing with brake, steering or engine out problems - only experienced light aircraft pilots can land or depart with an RPT aircraft on the taxiway.
The 1970s were a time of expansion at the airport. A further terminal expansion was completed along with a new cargo terminal. In 1976, Hong Kong handled 4,000,000 passengers and 150,000 tons of freight for the year. On the ATC side, at the end of the 70's we had around 80 Controllers including supervisors and 40 Student ATCO's and Assistants. Due to the lack of contact and flights to and from China at this time, Hong Kong had very limited airspace to the North due to its geographical location against the southern boundary of the Guangzhou FIR. In fact the radar was blanked out so that controllers could not look across the border and was limited to an are of approximately 140 degrees from the East through South to the South West. Also by this time, the majority of the ATC work force were local, with some expatriate controllers, mainly British. Hong Kong was by now well equipped with radar and navigation aids including Surveillance Radar with SSR, Approach Radar (without associated SSR), PAR, 3 VORs, 3 NDBs, 4 DMEs, the ILS to RWY31 and the IGS (instrument guidance system) to RWY13. By the early 70s, the military presence at Kai Tak was almost gone and the only operations were in the form of helicopters. Kai Tak was by now a totally civilian airport operating RPT traffic and some light aircraft. Only non-offensive military aircraft eg. transports, were allowed into Kai Tak.
With the opening up of China after the end of the Cultural Revolution, aviation in China really "took-off'. Flights between Hong Kong and cities in China started with CAAC providing daily flights using mainly Tridents. Long haul flights to Europe were allowed to transit China, reducing flying time and allowing shorter flights to London and other cities for the first time. By this time around 70% of all movements were wide-body types. By the mid-80s CAAC were really expanding and buying ever more Western type aircraft such as the B737, A300, B747, MD80 etc. Business was expanding rapidly between Hong Kong and China and this was the incentive to start another airline in Hong Kong to fill this market. This airline was called Dragonair and they started with B737s. Cathay Pacific were not standing still either and by 1985 they had a fleet of 9 Tristars and 9 B747s. Because of this expansion, movements were increasing at the rate of around 10% per year. In 1986 there were 11,000,000 passengers and 500,000 tons of freight handled.
The late 1980s & the 1990s have brought further expansion to Kai Tak within the physical boundaries of the airport. There was firstly the expansion of the eastern side of the airport, which eventually added a total of 15 parking bays as well as parking for General Aviation jets. This included a new taxiway bridge across the nulla (open drain). The final expansion was what is known as the South Apron with eventually another 13 bays, a taxiway and a new bridge joining the southern end of the apron with the runway promontory taxiway. This gives us a total of 65 useable bays. What does this mean for ATC? It means a very tight apron with nearly every bay having a different limitation applied to it, from what type can use it, to which way the aircraft can enter and which way it can push back or taxy. Everything at this airport is right on the limits for space. The division of responsibility between ATC and Apron Control is that Apron own the parking bays and do the bay allocation and ATC own the rest and it's ATC's job to get the aircraft into and out of the bays.
Starting and pushback here are very tightly controlled. To say that this place is busy is an understatement. This little airport last year handled 28,000,000 passengers and 1,500,000 tons of freight, making it the 3rd busiest International airport after London and Frankfurt and was 2nd busiest for freight after Narita. The design capacity of Kai Tak is 24,000,000 so the place is working way over capacity. These figures are not obtained by a huge increase in aircraft movements, which, due to movement capacity constraints, are around 4% over the last couple of years, but by the use of more and more widebody aircraft. A300s and Tristars are being replaced by A330s, MDlls and B777s. Even Cathay Pacific is using its B747-200/300 aircraft for "local" flights of 2-4 hours. Every available landing and departure slot has been allocated. Because of the lack of high-speed turn-offs, geographical limitations, which effect missed approach procedures, and other limitations, eg. the high proportion of ultra-long-haul flights affecting runway occupancy time, the scheduled number of movements per hour is 30. I have seen up to 38 aircraft handled but this depends on the mix of traffic and the weather, which can be diabolical here. We have had built an additional 90 degree taxiway at the SE end of the runway to facilitate aircraft vacating the runway if they miss the only high speed exit we have down there, but this was the last major works' program at the airport before the move next year. The result is that up to 150 flights a week are being turned away from Hong Kong. For the airlines the new airport can't come soon enough. Cathay and Dragonair are also pushing the limits. Cathay now operates 62 aircraft including B747/A330/A340/B777 and Dragonair has 11, 4 A330s & 7 A320s. Dragonair will double its fleet in the next 2 years. There are not enough parking bays here to park all of their aircraft.
To keep up with the traffic demand there has been a continuing program of equipment upgrades here for both ATC and in the form of navigation aids. Our current equipment includes Toshiba TW1253A Route Surveillance Radar with a range of 200 N.M., and Alenia ATCR-4T Approach Surveillance Radar with a 60 N.M. range. We have a Cardion Approach SSR and a Cossor long range monopulse SSR with a range of over 250 N.M. All radars are housed in domes for protection in Typhoons. In addition, at the airport we have a Thomson CSF digital Airport Surface Detection Equipment. This is very useful not only in bad weather but also on a day to day basis. The Control Tower at Kai Tak is adjacent to the beginning of runway 13 and quite close to the runway. This means that the tower controllers have no depth perception when looking at activity at the SE end of the runway. The ASDE allows them to determine whether for instance, an aircraft can make a particular taxiway after landing. All of the radars are fed through a radar display data processing system to amber monochrome Alenia DDS 80 displays. Viewing is in a darkened environment. This is because the Approach Radar is right next to the PAR, which because of the nature of the beast, must be viewed in a darkened environment. All positions in the ACC and Tower have access to displays of weather, current and forecast, a wind analyser and clearance and departure data. The Tower has a DFTI, ASDE, Wind Analyser with in-built wind-shear warning, RVR displays, touch screen lighting panel, Ceilographs for cloud base readings at the middle marker for each end of the runway and a voice synthesised ATIS.
AIRSPACE & GEOGRAPHY
The size of the Territory of Hong Kong of 870 sq km, has no bearing on the size of our FIR, which is huge. The FIR extends from the Southern coast of China to the South and South West out to approximately 330 N.M. and to the East around 200 N.M.. It, therefore, covers most of the South China Sea. Beyond this is an Area of Responsibility, which extends even further South along side the Northern part of Vietnam. Adjacent FIRs include Guangzhou (China) 12 N.M. to the North, Taipei to the East, Manila to the South East, and Ho Chi Minh to the South. The ATC Centre has speech circuits or direct lines to Guangzhou, Shenzhen & Macau and satellite links to Taipei, Manila & Ho Chi Minh. From the East through South to SSW we have 5 major air routes with the Eastern one by far the busiest. This handles traffic to and from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Canada & the USA. As we move clockwise, the next route is to the Philippines and beyond to Australia and New Zealand. The next route is for flights to destinations on the Island of Borneo and beyond to Australia and Niugini. The Southern route feeds destinations in Indonesia and to Singapore while the SSW route is for aircraft going to and from Europe, the Middle East, India, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The other main routes are through China. About 30% of all of our traffic comes from or through China. There is a route to the SW, which is for some flights to Europe but is mostly for aircraft going to Hainan Island. There is a transfer point about 100nm east for aircraft to & from the eastern coastal cities of China, and the main route for the rest of China and approved operators to Europe enters China 12nm North of Kai Tak. The inbound route is around 19 N.M. NW of Kai Tak, just a couple of miles North of where the new airport site is. Apart from aircraft from China, the route is also the main inbound track for aircraft from Europe, and now, United Airlines is using it for flights from the USA including one from Chicago non-stop. Our main problem with China being so close is that they use metre levels, while we, of course, use feet.
Except for the Kowloon Peninsula, where the airport is sited, Hong Kong is covered by very rugged terrain up to over 3,000' high. There is a range of hills up to 2,000' high which run parallel to the 13 IGS localiser to the North and wrap around the Eastern side of the airport to within 2 N.M. To the SE, on the extended centreline of RWY 13, aircraft have to fly through a gap between the mainland area of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island which itself is covered with rugged hills up to 2000' high. This terrain has a major effect on our approaches and procedures and contributes greatly to weather, wind shear and turbulence effects in the vicinity of the airport.
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES
The primary tracking aid here is the Cheng Chau VOR which is situated on the island of Cheng Chau 11 N.M. SW of the airport. Runway 13 is used about 90% of the time because of local winds as well as other factors eg. It has a longer operational length for departures ,which are over water, while the 31 departure is over the built up areas of Kowloon and requires a left turn as soon as the aircraft is airborne. The main approach flown by aircraft is the IGS (Instrument Guidance System) approach to RWY 13. To quote the AIP " The system uses ILS components but is offset from the landing direction by 47 degrees. Pilots on final approach on the IGS must therefore make a visual right turn to line up with the runway after reaching decision height. During this visual portion it is imperative that the correct visual cue with the surface is carefully maintained, making reference to aeronautical ground lights where appropriate.
In view of the local terrain and the IGS being offset from the runway, operators intending to use the system must ensure, for flight safety reasons, that their pilots are fully conversant with, and have adequate practice in, published procedures.
The system is designed for the instrument flight segment of the approach to be completed not later than the Middle Marker when visual flight must be established or an immediate missed approach procedure initiated.
After passing the Middle Marker the indications are not relative to the required aircraft visual and missed approach flight paths and must be ignored.
WARNING- Continued flight on the IGS flight path after passing the Middle Marker will result in loss of terrain clearance."
In other words, you will crash into a hill. The hill where the IGS is situated is painted with huge orange and white checks and is lit at night. The site is known as the Checkerboard. The approach itself is very long (around 28 N.M.) if done in its totality and commences at Cheng Chau VOR. The aircraft flies west for 7 N.M. on descent to 6000', turns right on a track of 040, descends to 4500' and after another 7 N.M. intercepts the localiser at 4500', descends on the localiser until reaching the MM, at the MM turns right 47 degrees to line up with the runway. This final leg of the approach on the localiser to touchdown is around 14 N.M.. OCL for the approach is 660'.
Because of air traffic numbers these days, very few aircraft carry out the full procedure. Normally the Approach Controller will vector aircraft on to the localiser to have more control on spacing. By the way, at Hong Kong we need about 8-9 N.M. between aircraft on final to enable us to get a departure away in between. Because we have so many long-haul aircraft for departure and because of taxiway and holding point configuration, it takes up to 1 minute for a 747 to line up and up to 1 minute to get airborne when cleared for take-off. During that time an aircraft on final has gone 6 N.M. Now all we need is 1 runway length between the departure and the landing to be legal but the problem here is the missed approach. If an aircraft makes a missed approach, he must go out on the centreline and due to the surrounding terrain he cannot turn off the centreline until he is about 6 N.M. out. The lowest altitude you can hold an aircraft on missed approach is 2500'. One runway length is 2 N.M. Therefore if we have one aircraft which has just rotated and another goes around, you have two aircraft locked on the centreline with no radar, longitudinal, lateral or vertical separation and you can't turn either of them. If conditions are visual in this context it would be bad enough but Hong Kong is not known for its good weather so we space aircraft even further apart when weather deteriorates.
Departure off runway 13 is straightforward with the pilot simply departing straight out on the front beam of the 31 localiser joining a standard departure route. When the weather deteriorates to a cloud ceiling of 1000' or less and/or visibility of 5000 metres or less, we monitor all departures 13 and approaches 31 with PAR. This is to ensure that all pilots stay on the centreline as they pass through a gap 2nm off the end of the runway. Departure 31 is not so straightforward. For a start, the pilot has available a much reduced operational length. Just off the end of the runway is Kowloon City with buildings of up to 6 floors. Also, if the pilot flew straight ahead, he would go straight into the 2000' range of hills North of the airport. Therefore he turns left as soon as he crosses the end of the runway and tracks towards Stonecutters Island to the West. The pilot then turns further left and tracks towards Cheng Chau VOR and thereafter on to his planned route.
The control room at Hong Kong is directly below the Tower at the Western end of the terminal building. All radar positions work in the same room. At one end of this cramped environment is Approach and PAR and at the other end of the room is the Enroute radar and procedural positions. Beyond 250 N.M. South of Hong Kong the control is procedural, as the area is outside radar coverage and over water. Communication in this area is through Hong Kong Radio using HF. Trials in ADS are already taking place in Hong Kong and I have no doubts that there will be major advances with controlling aircraft in these areas outside VHF coverage in the near future.
Normal staffing on Approach is 2. One radar controller and one co-ordinator. The Approach controller is responsible for all arrivals and departures from Hong Kong, all local flights and IFR training, flights to and from Guangzhou and Shenzhen transiting our airspace on climb and descent and about 70% of all movements into and out of Macau (40 N.M. West) - Hong Kong provides an Approach Radar service to Macau for all aircraft transiting our airspace, while Macau itself provides an Aerodrome Control Service - Approach handle all of this traffic out to around 45 N.M., sea level up to unlimited. It is a very busy position. The Co-ordinator is another very busy position as his job, apart from overseeing Approach is to co-ordinate with basically everyone within the Centre and Tower as well as Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. He is also the Flow Controller, issuing all speed control and holding requirements to meter the inbound traffic. When holding is required we open supplementary positions called Terminal Control West and Terminal Control East to take the load off the enroute controllers. These are adjacent to the Approach positions. Although movement rates at Kai Tak have only increased marginally over the last couple of years, (around 460 per day with a curfew between midnight and 6.30 am), through area traffic has been increasing at the rate of 20-25% per year meaning that all radar positions are at their absolute maximum capacity.
At the other end of the room is the Enroute Control. The airspace is divided into East and West and each has 3 positions. One radar, one procedural and one assistant who does the co-ordination with adjoining FIRs. Due to the rapid increase in through area traffic mentioned above, it is hoped in the near future to created a third enroute position for the South. (This was opened recently - Two Dogs)
The Tower has one Clearance Delivery position, one Ground Movement Controller, one Aerodrome Controller and one Zone Controller (who looks after local helicopters and light aircraft). We also have a Tower Supervisor and a number of ATC assistants who carry out non-control functions necessary at this airport.
Aircraft from China come inbound through TAMOT (19 N.M. NW of Kai Tak) and are given levels to be at by TAMOT in accordance with a Letter of Agreement with Guangzhou. This stipulates that the lowest level at TAMOT is FL150 with 10 minutes between following aircraft at the same level. If we don't have 10 minutes, the following aircraft are stepped up at 2000' intervals. ie. 170, 190, 210 etc. These aircraft call Approach direct about 3 minutes before crossing TAMOT and we do not get an electronic hand-off (due incompatible equipment and the fact that China only provides a radar monitoring service backing up procedural separation). We get the TAMOT transfer on inbound aircraft from Guangzhou via a landline around 15-20 minutes before it arrives there. We then work out a place in the arriving sequence for the aircraft. We can see aircraft on radar out to 256 N.M. from Hong Kong, but we would not know who they are until we get the transfer from Guangzhou and the assigned transponder code. All of this means that Approach can't even start to handle inbound aircraft from China's airspace until they are 3 minutes from overhead.
As previously stated, next to the Approach is a Co-ordinator (also Approach rated) who does all the flow control & co-ordination with the Tower & Enroute Radar. It is he who decides the landing order. He looks at the long-range radar & from the ground-speed readout off the data block on the screen, works out his own estimate for Cheng Chau. From this he will work out a landing priority based on first come, first served. He will then issue speed control instructions to the enroute radar controller to pass to the aircraft. If the Approach Co-ordinator expects no delay to aircraft, he simply leaves them alone. Trouble comes with the transfers from the adjacent ATC units. They are sometimes not received as promptly as we would wish. The transfer may be 1 or 2 aircraft or more (the highest number I have seen transferred over TAMOT within a 5 min period was 5, at 2000' intervals from FL 150 up to FL 230. As you can work out for yourself, if we require 3 minutes or 9nm between each landing & we get a bunch of aircraft inserted into the sequence ahead of traffic we have identified and had on our frequency for 30 minutes or more, we have immediate problems. It means that aircraft we have so carefully sequenced have to be re-arranged into a new landing order. These days, to stay well ahead of the game, we open Terminal Radar holding at either of three holding stacks 60 N.M. from Hong Kong. China inbounds don't get priority. We base their position in the sequence on time they would have been over Cheung Chau if let run, compare it with the other Cheung Chau estimates we have worked out for all the other arrivals and insert them in the correct order.
WORKLOAD & STAFFING
Our immediate problems at Hong Kong are the result of a rapid increase in movements both into Hong Kong and through-area in the last 6 years without a corresponding increase in the number of working positions to handle the traffic. Approach now has the additional responsibilities of through traffic to Shenzhen and Macau, added to the increasing traffic here while Enroute is looking after huge increases generated by through-area traffic between SE Asia and China. Because of this traffic increase and to increase the number of working teams from 4 to 5, the Civil Aviation Department embarked on a recruitment campaign a couple of years ago where they advertised world-wide for experienced controllers. This was very successful and by January 1996 we standardised on 5 teams working a 5 day cycle, 4 on/1 off, which compared with the 4 teams 8 day cycle, 7 on/1 off we had previously.
The recruitment is on going to expand control positions and for the manning and training for the new airport. New arrivals are running at the rate of 5 every 3 months (about the limit of our training capacity)- (this has recently been increased to 7 every 2 months - TwoDogs). The Hong Kong Government has a localisation policy for all Government Departments and is still vigorously recruiting local Student ATCOs. However to fill the gaps over the next 6 years or so, expatriates are still needed. In the last 2 years we have gone from around 9% expatriates to around 40% with the expatriates working on 3-year contracts. To maintain flexibility for rostering and as part of the over-all promotion structure for local controllers, all ATCOs have multiple ratings in Hong Kong, either Enroute Procedural, Radar & Approach Radar or Approach Radar/Co-ordinator and all Tower positions.
I think all controllers working here consider that the Civil Aviation Department and the Air Traffic Management Division, in particular, are good employers and that the work here is both rewarding and interesting. Why else would our previous IFATCA Deputy President come to work here? We've certainly had no shortage of job applicants and the place has become a real United Nations. Local controllers here are of a very high standard and if I can quote from an article written 2 years ago by the then Director Flight Operations, Cathay Pacific, Capt. Gerry Clemmow for Orient Aviation magazine, " Going back many years before things were as organised as they are now, pilots flying across Europe heard the voice of ATC at London and it was music to their ears. The same applies today in this region with Hong Kong's ATC. Feedback from pilots about Kai Tak is nothing but positive. Aircrews have complete confidence in Hong Kong" This was written before we started recruiting more expatriates. Current staffing is 116 Controllers including management, 32 Student ATCOS, 60 Assistants (Air Traffic Flight Service Officers)& 13 Trainee Assistants.
As a society, the Hong Kong population is not very aviation-orientated. Hong Kong is also noted for its full employment. These two factors over the years have made it difficult for the Civil Aviation Department to attract local school leavers to the occupation of ATC. Over the last year or so however, due to various reasons, including better advertising and career exhibitions, we are at last getting applications for Student ATCOs at a reasonable rate. How do we train these people and what can they look forward to as Controllers in Hong Kong?
When selected for training, the student will have about one year of training in ATC assistant positions basically to immerse them in the ATC environment and obtain an understanding of how the system works. They will then be sent away, usually to the UK to do a primary ATC course. The question could be asked why we don't carry out this course in-house. There are 2 reasons. One is resources and the other is a conscious effort on the part of the CAD to immerse these students in an English speaking environment during training and where they are living while attending the course. It has been found that this improves English language skills and confidence.
On return to Hong Kong and after a short period doing assistants' work they are then sent to Australia to obtain a private pilot's licence. This is to improve their aviation awareness and knowledge base. (On return they are given up to 10 hours per year to remain current if they wish to).
The first comprehensive ATC course for rating is Enroute Procedural. Total classroom and OJT takes around 6 months. On completion they obtain their licence and are promoted to ATCO III. There is at least a further 6 months consolidation during which time they will also work as a Clearance Delivery Controller in the Tower. There will then be a 3-week Tower course covering mainly bookwork as we have no Tower Simulator at this time. (Our Tower Simulator is due to be delivered in March and will be sited at the new airport). This classroom work will be followed by up to 6 months OJTI for rating check. There will then follow at least 6 months consolidation where the ATCO III works both Tower and Enroute Procedural.
The next step is a radar course. This will take up to 6 months classroom and simulator time and is followed by 6 months OJT on both Approach and Enroute Radar. Successful completion means promotion to ATCO II grade. The entire process from day 1 to promotion as ATCO II takes from around 5 years, depending on available training slots.
Promotion to ATCO I is dependent on seniority and obtaining both PAR and SAR ratings.
For newly arrived experienced ATCOs, it will take about 6-7 months to become fully rated in all positions required. This is comprised of 1 month in the Training Unit for basic bookwork and simulator training of local procedures and about 2-3 months OJT on each of the ratings required. The large numbers of new arrivals here has put a great strain on the training side of our operation with by far the greatest workload on the limited pool of On-the-Job-Instructors. These poor controllers have had little opportunity to do the work themselves for the last three years and because of their scarcity, find that they are having leave curtailed and limited opportunity to move into other jobs.