Cathay pilot says Hong Kong crisis 'could be the collapse of the airline'

The main shareholding company and manager of Cathay Pacific has condemned protests in Hong Kong and vowed to follow China's aviation rules after the airline suspended a second pilot as deepening unrest hit its operation and share prices.

Swire Pacific is the majority shareholder owning 45 percent of the airline.

Cathay, whose strong British links make it a symbol of Hong Kong's colonial past, has emerged as the highest-profile corporate target as Beijing looks to quell protests in the territory that have gone on for ten straight weeks.

The level of disruption the protests are having on Kiwi travellers is growing by the day.

Hong Kong is popular with Kiwis as a destination and as a stopover location.

Upwards of 1000 New Zealanders pass through Hong Kong airport every day.

It is currently peak season for New Zealanders travelling to the European summer.

Shares in the Hong Kong flag carrier sank to a 10-year low, hit by concerns that Beijing could slap further sanctions on the airline, causing more damage to its brand.

Last week, China's aviation regulator demanded Cathay suspend any staff who engaged in or supported illegal protests in Hong Kong, saying they would not be allowed to work on flights that entered Chinese airspace. Later that week, the airline suspending a pilot for connections to the protest action.

Cathay pilot says Hong Kong crisis 'could be the collapse of the airline'
Photo credit: Bloomberg

The airline also fired two ground staff and sent out a warning email to its employees.

"We condemn all illegal activities and violent behaviour, which seriously undermine the fundamental principle of 'One Country, Two Systems' as enshrined in the Basic Law," the company said in a statement.

Cathay Pacific's losses will be massive compared to other airlines as Hong Kong is where it's based. 

The airline was forced to cancel hundreds of flights for two consecutive days as protests forced the closure of Chek Lap Kok Airport.


Analysts and employees said there were fears that Beijing could take further action that could hit the airline, such as time-consuming plane checks at airports or even the closure of Chinese airspace and airports to Cathay flights.

Some Cathay employees expressed concerns over what the firm's position could mean for them. "I think there is an underlying concern now about what this does to Cathay," one of the airline's pilots said of the regulatory scrutiny.

"This could be a storm in a teacup and we'll be back to making lots of money next month. Or this could be the collapse of the airline. No one really knows," the pilot told Reuters.