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Experts voice fears over system problems at Incheon Airport

Experts voice fears over system problems at Incheon Airport

Posted March. 02, 2001 13:18,   


Airline officials and independent experts recommended postponing the opening of the new Incheon International Airport in order to cope with flaws found in the course of trial runs and ensure the safety and convenience of passengers.

1. Hurdles to opening

An official of a foreign airline planning to fly out of the airport said devoting sufficient time to getting the bugs out of the system and providing additional emergency training would minimize possible confusion after its opening. He said the existing baggage handling system (BHS) was adequate for the needs of the relatively small number of passengers who would use the airport immediately after its opening, but cautioned that the system might be overwhelmed when flights get more crowded during the tourist season.

The Ministry of Construction and Transportation (MOCT) and the Incheon International Airport Corporation dismissed such warnings. After a demonstration of the baggage handling system, check-in counter officials complained of the ``captious reaction`` of the local media. At the time, reporters noted luggage mix-ups and voiced dismay at the airport president`s preoccupation with the opening date rather than the safety and comfort of passengers.

Designed and installed by a consortium made up of Alstrom of France, Mannesmann of Germany and Korea`s Pohang Iron and Steel Co., the baggage handling system has been criticized for its perceived inability to handle the projected volume of baggage. More troubling than the speed of flow is the device for automatic sorting of baggage. The ministry has yet to pinpoint the exact cause of a defect in the BHS and efforts to repair it are feared to delay the airport`s grand opening.

2. Other problems

There are also concerns that the Flight Information Display System (FIDS), a device to provide information on flight schedules and numbers has flaws that may cause passengers and even flight crews to go to the wrong gates and thus disrupt flight schedules. With regard to the network`s failure in test operations, the MOCT and airport authorities said the mishap had resulted from a glitch in the connection between the network and the integrated information-communications system. Work on repairing the defect is reportedly underway.

As for the CTX, a device for detecting explosives, malfunctions reportedly occurred in five separate trial runs. A product of the U.S. firm InVision Technologies, the CTX is an ultramodern device designed to analyze baggage for articles with a density equivalent to explosives. The process of examining a single piece of luggage takes 12 seconds.

The CTX was installed along the BHS conveyer belts but has so far failed to function properly. Airport officials said there were no defects in the CTX itself and that the malfunction was apparently caused by a bad link between the equipment and the airport information-communications system.

3. Comparison with overseas airports

Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong saw a raft of problems upon its opening in June 1998 due to malfunctions in its BHS. On opening day, the BHS system problems were so serious that cargo operations were brought to a standstill and countless flight delays occurred. The mishaps drew international attention and the amount of money paid out in compensation reached the equivalent of several trillion won. The financial damage was so severe that it pushed down Hong Kong`s gross national product (GNP).

The opening of Denver Airport, the air transport hub of the U.S. central region, was postponed for about a year due to BHS defects. Airport authorities made the decision to delay the opening out of fear that if the airport went into operation without addressing existing problems, they would end up paying out huge amounts for potential lawsuits stemming from loss or damage to cargo and baggage.

Song Jin-Hup jinhup@donga.com