The Chinese mainland government continues to vary its tactics as it seeks to quell the the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong. The latest target: Cathay Pacific crewmembers.
The CAAC issued a “major aviation safety risk warning” to the carrier on Friday, suggesting that its crew are “involved in violent shocks and riots” as well as other malicious actions. While these actions are confined to their protest activities on the ground, the CAAC believes that they could contribute to troubles in the sky as well. This has led to a three part ultimatum from the CAAC to the airline, with the potential to see crew grounded or shifted from their previously assigned duties as a result.
With less than a day of notice the CAAC will require Cathay Pacific to ensure that all crew “involved in and supporting illegal demonstrations” be removed from flights to the mainland or “carrying out activities related to air transportation in the Mainland.” There is some question about the use of “illegal” in the phrasing, suggesting that it may only apply to a limited subset of the protests. That it references “activities related to air transport” could also extend it to cover ground handlers and other crew who are not actively on board for the trips to the Mainland.
During the first weekend of protests at Hong Kong International Airport a number of crew participated. A recording of a pilot briefing passengers shortly before landing from Tokyo also went viral, particularly as he supports the protesters with an “add oil” reference at the end of the speech.
Whether this type of support is considered a violation is unclear. But China’s desire to quell such actions is very, very clear.
In addition to removing those crew from the flights to the Mainland, the CAAC will require as of Sunday morning that Cathay file crew rosters in advance of all flights to the Mainland or crossing through mainland airspace. This also covers the bulk of the carrier’s flights to Europe and could cause significant operational disruptions, depending on how many crew are affected.
Finally, the CAAC will require a report from the company early next week detailing how it intends to “strengthen internal control and improve flight safety and security.”
Too much? Or business as usual??
To say that this is an aggressive move by the Chinese authorities is an understatement. There is no doubt that the government will use as many different avenues as possible to “peacefully” disrupt the protests, holding out hope that Hong Kong citizens will relent. Applying economic pressure through the airline – which just recently reported a return to profit, but also very soft forward bookings due in large part to the protests – is a not-so-subtle way to push that agenda. And, as far-fetched as tying protestors to dangerous acts in the sky is, the regulator can absolutely do so.