Air Transport World

Turbulent takeoffs

Human error and bizarre system glitches mar the openings of new airports at Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUK--Kicking off a whole new airport or only just another terminal is expectedly problematical. Just ask the folks at Denver International, Osaka Kansai or Frankfurt. Even Singapore. And switching airports in a 1-day final push is a gargantuan organizational task but nothing new, either. Both Denver and Munich did it with remarkable precision

But the bizarre dimensions of what took place into mid-July at two supremely prestige-conscious Asian airports that had heaped themselves with preopening self-acclaim defies precedent.

"It's hard getting a turkey to fly," wrote the daily Hong Kong Standard in an editorial, As a traveler remarked wryly: "To call this "teething problems' is farcical."

Putting it mildly, the week-apart openings of Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sepang (ATW, 2/98, p. 30) and Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok (ATW, 6/98, p. 44) were anything but tributes to their stunning architecture and undenied long-term potential or need.

Analysts generally attribute the botched premiers to a combination of hubris and blind political pressure that forced a premature rush to start-up operations. Result: A public relations disaster of deeply embarrassing proportions and severe financial losses amid a fiasco of massive technical collapse and human error.

What hurts most, especially in the Asian cultural context, is incalculable loss of face accompanying the flascos. …

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