For nearly six hours on September 13th, the Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminal Ltd.’s multi-story automated cargo handling facility was shut down after a critical computer system failed. Though HACTL had not quantified the number of shipments affected, officials told Logistics Today the terminal processes as much as 8,000 tonnes per day of freight during the peak shipping season which begins in September. Much of that freight flies on freighters, as many as 40 per day at peak times. There have been no further problems reported since the system was put back online.
The system was put back on line within six hours, but not before many flights left, stranding cargo temporarily in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, and specifically the HACTL terminal, is a critical link to the Pearl River Delta manufacturing district in southern China. HACTL’s Warren Bishop said 90% of the Pearl River Delta’s (PRD) air cargo goes through Hong Kong. The PRD includes the Shenzhen special economic zone and Guangzhou.
Though there are five airports in the region, Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok is by far the largest. It handled over three million tonnes of cargo in 2004 compared with Guangzhou’s 100,000 tonnes.
HACTL operates seven inland bonded depots in manufacturing centers in the PRD and its Superlink cross-boundary service moves consolidated loads from the manufacturing plants to the airport for export. Those trucks were delayed at the airport terminal during the computer outage while loads were processed manually.
Import shipments were also unable to move through the automated terminal. Manufacturers in the PRD contacted by Logistics Today were not aware of any disruption in their operations that may have resulted from the problems at HACTL. Bishop had pointed out in an interview with Logistics Today prior to the computer failure, that critical inbound shipments are typically able to arrive at Hong Kong early in the morning and be in Guangzhou by 3:00 p.m. the same day. Export shipments using the airport-direct service from the inland consolidation depots can move from the factory to the aircraft in 26 hours.
HACTL operated an automated cargo facility at Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport prior to the completion of Chep Lap Kok in 1998. Because the old airport was in the flight path of the new airport, operations had to be shifted in one night. HACTL had carefully orchestrated its transition to be able to shut down operations in Kai Tak and begin in its new facility without disruption. The location of the new airport allows it to operate 24-hours a day because there is no night flying curfew.
Despite its careful planning, HACTL experienced a computer failure during the transition in 1998 and had to process freight that landed at Chep Lap Kok through its old Kai Tak facility. HACTL’s management complained at time that the tight timeframe for the transition had contributed to problems that caused the computer failure.