Tue. Oct 15th, 2019

China’s watchdog has Cathay workers ‘ walking on eggshells ‘ as protests hit Hong Kong

China's Civil Aviation Authority

Months of anti-government protests have engulfed their region, and their business is feeling the wrath of China’s aviation regulator after some staff members have participated or expressed support.

Since an Aug.9 order issued by China’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAC) calling for the suspension of personnel who sponsored or participated in the protests, the regulator has dismissed several entire crew lists without explanation, two reliable sources told Reuters.

The rejections forced Cathay to scramble, pull pilots and flight attendants off standby while reviewing social media accounts, one of the sources said, in an effort to determine the crew member is considered a security threat.

Certain problems occurred while landing in the form of a huge jump in the number of aircraft inspections, four pilots said.

Regulatory power flexing has added to the airline’s climate of fear, with workers telling Reuters that they thought the long-term future of Cathay as an independent company was highly uncertain and subject to the whims of Beijing.

In August, Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg and his top deputy both resigned in the midst of the growing regulatory scrutiny of the 73-year-old carrier, one of the highest-profile brands in the area building on the British heritage of Hong Kong.

DEMERIT SYSTEM

Worldwide air traffic authorities conduct periodic aircraft checks at airports to ensure that an airline complies with safety regulations.

But after the Aug. 9 order of the CAAC, the once-infrequent inspections took place almost daily and included the new and unusual step of searching crew-owned phones for anti-China images and messages, the pilots said, adding that this had resulted in delays in flight.

The step-up in inspections increased the likelihood of regulators noticing minor problems to write up, which pilots said had included dust on the outside of the plane and marks on a fire extinguisher.

Infractions can have disproportionate effects under the strict demerit point system of the CAAC, they said, noting that the regulator could pressure Cathay to reduce its number of flights, cut destinations or, in the worst-case scenario, withdraw the right of the airline to fly to mainland China.