Cathay Pacific’s senior management has said that the city’s flagship carrier operated in accordance with government regulations, after Hong Kong’s leader declared on Tuesday that investigations were underway into alleged non-compliance with Covid-19-related rules by the airline.

In a video message seen by HKFP, the carrier’s chairperson Patrick Healy said that the company would “cooperate fully” with all investigations.

Cathay Pacific planes. File Photo: GovHK.

The government was conducting two separate probes into the airline: one into alleged non-compliance with self-isolation regulations by individual members of aircrew; the second into the company’s practice of rostering crew onto cargo-only passenger aircraft to return to the city, meaning they could avoid the longer quarantine periods required from returning passenger aircrew.

Healy told staff that the decision regarding rostering was made by the firm itself and “the company takes full responsibility for that decision.”

He said that the airline had made “fully transparent and accurate declarations” about crew members rostered onto cargo-only flights to the relevant authorities and that he was “very confident” the practice was “entirely in line with the government regulations which were in place until 29th December.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said authorities would take legal action if they found evidence on wrongdoing by the airline. “If we discover from full investigation that some crew of Cathay Pacific or some staff of Cathay Pacific should not have been travelling back on a cargo flight and enjoying this exemption, that would be a much bigger non-compliance,” Lam said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on January 11, 2022 ahead of the Executive Council meeting. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Speaking at the first Legislative Council meeting of the new term on Wednesday morning, Lam said that she was aware of Healy’s assurances that Cathay Pacific had been following government rules. “We will fully investigate into this matter, as the government has an independent stance,” she said.

Previously, the Transport and Housing Bureau had allowed cargo aircrew members to undergo three-days of self-isolation at home after arriving Hong Kong, while airline employees returning on passenger flights were required to undergo at least 14 days of hotel confinement.

Authorities cancelled home self-isolation for arriving cargo aircrew on December 29, instead requiring them to stay in designated hotels, after three Cathay Pacific employees tested positive. The quarantine period was extended to seven days on December 31, after some aircrew were found to have flouted self-isolation rules and brought the highly transmissive Omicron variant to the community.

The airline suspended long-haul cargo flights for seven days when the new quarantine requirements were implemented and have since operated at about one-fifth of cargo capacity and around two per cent of passenger flight capacity compared to pre-pandemic times.

During Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting, Lam said that the tightening of quarantine measures for aircrew had already greatly affected the air cargo capacity of Hong Kong. She said the public should expect products imported via air freight to be more expensive or even in shortage in the near future, including food, electronic goods and medicine.

‘Remarkable discipline and professionalism

In the video address, Healy said any non-compliance with quarantine rules was “completely unacceptable.”

However, those who failed to comply with isolation regulations were a “tiny minority” and “should not be allowed to overshadow the remarkable discipline and professionalism of the overwhelming majority of Cathay Pacific crew over so many months.”

He said crew had taken 230,000 Covid-19 tests in 2021 and found only 16 positive cases. He added that, from January to August last year, none of the airline’s operating crew had contracted Covid-19, adding that the five employees who were infected by the Delta variant in the following three months did not lead to a community outbreak.

In total, the city has reported 12,980 infections and 213 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.