A Hong Kong airline pilot who became an internet sensation after expressing support for the city’s protesters no longer works at Cathay Pacific.

The carrier confirmed to HKFP that the pilot is “no longer an employee,” but did not say if he resigned or was fired. The departure was first rumoured on social media on Tuesday, with one anonymous post claiming that the pilot told his colleagues he “won’t be coming back” and saying goodbye.

july 26 airport china extradition (1)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

On July 26, netizens circulated a recording which was made on a Cathay Pacific flight about to land in Hong Kong. During his announcement, the captain signed off by reassuring his passengers about the airport protests.

“For your information, at the moment there is a very peaceful and orderly demonstration at the Hong Kong International Airport arrival hall. All they demand is the withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill,” a male voice could be heard saying.

“So at the moment, everything is very quiet, very peaceful, so don’t be scared by all these people wearing black shirts and sitting in the arrival hall… Feel free to talk to them to try to know more about Hong Kong if you want to.”

YouTube video

He ended with a few words in Cantonese: “Hongkongers add oil, be careful and stay safe.” The popular phrase “add oil” is generally used to express encouragement.

At the time, hundreds of protesters were staging a sit-in at the Terminal 1 arrival hall of Hong Kong International Airport in response to a call by airline industry workers. Some greeted incoming travellers with protest posters, saying that they wanted to raise international awareness of their demands, which included the withdrawal of an extradition bill and an inquiry into alleged police misconduct.

The event ⁠— the first of its kind ⁠— was a precursor to what later became a three-day-long airport occupation in August, which briefly descended into violent confrontations between protesters, travellers and police.

The Cathay pilot’s recording was warmly received on social media in Hong Kong, with some users leaving comments on the airline’s Facebook page expressing approval.

Cathay Pacific aircraft airplane
File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

However, the pilot found a detractor in former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who had also criticised Cathay Pacific for alleged political bias.

“If a passenger has a different political opinion, do they have to rush into the cabin, take over the microphone and debate politics with the captain? It is so ignorant and arrogant for airline staff to bring politics into their work,” Leung wrote on Facebook after news broke about the pilot’s departure.

Shakeups at Cathay Pacific

Separately, lawmaker Jeremy Tam from the pro-democracy Civic Party announced on Tuesday that he was leaving Cathay Pacific, where he had been employed as a pilot for nearly two decades.

“I have decided to give up on this job I love, to protect this company which has over 70 years of history in Hong Kong from unreasonable attacks,” Tam wrote in a statement. “I also hope that this political storm in the airline industry can stop with me.”

Jeremy Tam
Jeremy Tam. Photo: Civic Party.

Tam was referring to Beijing’s efforts to put pressure on the carrier, which resulted in China’s aviation regulator (CACC) imposing new safety rules.

Last Friday, Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg and top deputy Paul Loo resigned — days after two pilots were fired over incidents connected to the city’s pro-democracy protests.

Tam said on Tuesday that CACC putting pressure on local airline companies was “definitely a form of white terror,” and said the resignations and firings were the results of a “political show trial.”

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.