ATW Editor's Blog

Editor’s Blog: Why Beijing’s bullying of Hong Kong Airport and Cathay could misfire

by Karen Walker
Aug 16, 2019

What has happened in Hong Kong this week amounts to one thing: Beijing bullying.

The Chinese government, through its CAAC civil aviation agency, has threatened Cathay Pacific with new rules that force it to provide information on any crews who operate flights into the mainland or through Chinese airspace. Any Cathay employee who is found to have taken part in the anti-government protests is banned from operating those flights.

Meanwhile, several major Chinese companies have struck Cathay off their airline travel lists. And Cathay’s CEO and chief customer and commercial officer—both highly experienced and respected industry executives—have been forced to resign while statements were issued about “resetting confidence”.

Cathay is an historic airline with excellent records in safety and customer service. Hong Kong International Airport is a superb hub and an important gateway for tourists, business travelers and cargo to and from Hong Kong and the broader Asia-Pacific market, including mainland China.

Beijing knows that when it pressures Hong Kong’s airport and flagship airline, any harm it inflicts will be to the benefit of its government-owned major carriers—Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.

Cathay management made clear it does not tolerate any unprofessional or violent behavior. By targeting a Hong Kong airline that competes with Chinese mainland carriers, CAAC is tilting the competitive playing field.

Such antics could misfire, however. Those with airline travel options—including corporations—can choose non-Chinese carriers if they do not like what has happened in Hong Kong. They can question the ties that their home country airlines have with Chinese government-owned airlines through global alliances, equity stakes or joint ventures. The global commercial air transport industry is, like other service industries, market-based and consumer driven.

Karen Walker, karen.walker@informa.com

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