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Friday, July 10, 1998 Published at 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong airport inquiry

The goods pile up at Hong Kong's new airport

An independent inquiry is to be launched into disruption at Hong Kong's new £12bn airport at Chek Lap Kok.

The inquiry has been ordered by Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Jill McGivering, BBC News, Hong Kong: A symbol of hope which has had the opposite effect
On Friday, imports and exports virtually ground to a halt at the airport, just days after it opened for business.

Hong Kong's main cargo handler announced an eight-day ban on most imports and exports into the territory because of computer faults.

The ban could cost Hong Kong $3bn, according to some estimates.

'Laughing stock'

Anthony Charter, Hong Kong Cargo Terminal's Managing Director
The Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Company expressed regret at having to stop shipments and plans to move a backlog of imports from the new facility to the old airport at Kai Tak for processing.

A few imports - newspapers, magazines, and lifesaving materials - are among the only goods that will get through.

Most perishable freight has been badly damaged, at considerable cost to local businesses.

The bad publicity is also causing political embarrassment. Some local legislators say the airport has made Hong Kong a laughing stock and called on the government to make investigations.

At the airport's opening ceremony, officials said the new facility would breathe fresh life into Hong Kong's depressed economy.

The BBC's correspondent says that so far it has merely increased the territory's financial woes.

Opening rushed

[ image: Problems for passengers at Chek Lap Kok are being smoothed out]
Problems for passengers at Chek Lap Kok are being smoothed out
There have been problems at the airport, located on an outlying island 30km from the territory, since it opened on Monday.

Over the first few days, the computer problems meant luggage was severely delayed, flight information boards failed and flights were disrupted.

Some passengers were stranded for hours on incoming aircraft because there were no air-bridges to take them to the terminal building.

After the rocky start, passenger services at Chek Lap Kok improved slowly.

But, according to commentators, it is beginning to appear that the cargo terminal was not ready for the move from the former Kai Tak airport.

Questions asked

On Thursday, legislators questioned airport officials and cargo handlers about the failures.

The meeting raised speculation that the airport was not ready to open on July 6 and that completion had been rushed.

A seven-hour road, rail and sea operation was required to transfer equipment from the old airport so that the new one could open on time.

Local press likened the operation to a major military exercise.

The airport was officially opened by Chinese President Jiang Zemin as part of Hong Kong's anniversary celebrations marking the territory's first year under Chinese rule.

The US President Bill Clinton later flew into Chek Lap Kok on the last leg of his tour of China.

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