Hong Kong Travel & Transport

Airport did not violate procedure in granting restricted area access to think tank director, says Ombudsman

The Ombudsman has said that there was no violation of rules in an incident last year, in which the director of a foundation visiting the airport was allowed into the restricted area without showing her identity card.

Our Hong Kong Foundation’s Executive Director Eva Cheng Li Kam-Fun was leading the foundation’s members in a tour of the control tower in June last year, HK01 cited a source as saying at the time. Cheng forgot to bring her identity card, but was given a Control Authority Permit to enter the restricted area.

The foundation denied she mentioned former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa – the foundation’s founder – in order to gain access. The Ombudsman then launched an investigation following criticism that violation of procedure may have created a security loophole.

airport restricted area

Restricted area of the airport. Photo: Ombudsman.

According to Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a former commercial pilot, the Control Authority Permit should only be issued for emergency use, such as for the use of police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

The Ombudsman published a report on Monday without naming the organisation involved, but the details matched the incident.

It said the organisation sent a request to the Airport Authority a month before the visit. The application was accepted and it proceeded to prepare Special Visitor Passes for the organisation. Two weeks before its visit, the organisation provided the Chinese and English names, identity card numbers, contact telephone numbers and titles of all participants.

On the day of the visit, the chief delegate was unable to collect a Special Visitor Pass without an identity card, and the Airport Authority issued a Control Authority Permit. The group visited the Integrated Airport Centre – which is in the restricted area – but not the Aerodrome Control Tower, the report said.

The Centre is responsible for monitoring all daily operations including the airfields, the baggage hall, terminals, and road facilities.

pass airport

From left: Special Visitor Pass; Control Authority Permit. Photo: Ombudsman

The Authority explained to the Ombudsman that it did not have any doubts about the chief delegate’s identification because the chief delegate was an expected visitor, and the staff member who “had business contacts” with the chief delegate was present that day. It also said staff followed the established procedures.

The Ombudsman, in response, said the main justification for issuing the permit to the chief delegate was that there was an urgent need for the chief delegate to access the restricted area “for business reason” – referring to the fact that the chief delegate was required to lead the delegation, give a speech and present souvenirs.

“It is, therefore, not unreasonable that AA, having considered the circumstances, exercised its discretion and issued the Control Authority Permit,” it said.

It said the organisation was under escort by Airport Authority staff throughout the visit, and the visitors did not enter the control tower.

“AA’s handling of the incident, therefore, did not give rise to security loophole,” it said.

jeremy tam

Jeremy Tam. File Photo: Jeremy Tam, via Facebook.

Tam said he agreed with the report’s finding that the Airport Authority has the power to issue the permit.

But he questioned why the speeches and presentations were deemed so urgent that they could not be done outside the restricted area: “Is it the Airport Authority’s task to help the Our Hong Kong Foundation get the job done?”

“It is undoubtedly placing the foundation above airport security, breaking rules and discipline and abusing discretionary power for the sake of powerful people,” he said.

Airport did not violate procedure in granting restricted area access to think tank director, says Ombudsman