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Hong Kong Airport CEO Steps Down

November 25, 1998

HONG KONG (AP) _ Five months after the disastrous opening of Hong Kong’s new $20 billion airport, its chief executive is stepping down, the Airport Authority said Wednesday.

The departure of Hank Townsend, a former International Bechtel Inc. engineer, takes effect Monday, when his contract ends, according to Airport Authority spokesman Chris Donnolley.

Townsend ``was suspected to have had a mild stroke, but that is not the reason why he is retiring,″ Donnolley said, declining to elaborate.

The move comes just days after Townsend testified during legislative hearings that he could have been more forthcoming about potential problems when the airport opened on July 6.

Government officials have complained they were not fully informed and proceeded with a gala opening of the airport that left them embarrassed as costly as computer breakdowns and systems problems crippled both passenger and cargo services.

Meantime, the official who originally said he would take the blame for the airport troubles was reappointed as chairman of the Airport Authority, along with 14 other board members whose terms were expiring.

Wong Po-yan and the others will keep their jobs ``as an interim arrangement″ for another six months, amid ongoing investigations into the mess, the government said.

``The airport is now running smoothly and we will continue to do all we can in close collaboration with government,″ Wong said in an Airport Authority statement.

The airport’s troubled opening was costly: The government has estimated that a ban for over a month on all cargo except perishables and essential goods will shave 0.35 percent off the territory’s gross domestic product.

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