Cathay Pacific has been under intense pressure from Chinese mainland authorities at almost every level, and the unofficial feedback is the 73 year old airline may never be the same again.
Some 30% of the airlines routes are in to mainland China, and the airline’s crews and aircraft have been placed under intense scrutiny by mainland authorities to the point of outright harassment.
Every aircraft has been investigated for safety issues on landing – most aviation authorities do this from time to time to maintain routine spot checks, but with Cathay, its been every flight every time.
Tiny infractions from scratches on a fire extinguishers paint to water marks on an aircraft windows have been labelled as safety violations. Crews are having their mobile phones searched just as the aircraft is due to take off from mainland Chinese airports and forcing a delay.
Having already forced out the airlines Chairman and its CEO, the company has been made to examine every single social media account of everyone who works for it, to make sure they haven’t transgressed by supporting or participating in any of the anti-Hong Kong Government protests.
Mainland authorities have made it clear anyone who has supported the protests, even with one tweet or photo, must not enter China, and indeed the company has been unofficially told it needs to fire anyone involved or face difficulties with its aviation licence – controlled from Beijing.
Management feels they have no choice. If Beijing suspends the airline’s license, it’s shut down globally and that’s the end of operations. Rumours that Air China – controlled and owned by the Beijing Government as the state airline, is ready to step in and ‘buy’ Cathay if needed.
Tensions with staff at the airline are said to be at breaking point, with many having friends and relatives who are involved in the millions-strong protests, and apparently feeling the heavy hand of Chinese oppression through the company is exactly what they’re protesting about – a slow and pernicious form of control that’s making their lives less and less free.
The problem for the Chinese Authorities is a desperate but so far effective containment of the Hong Kong unrest, any thought of it spreading to the mainland is simply unacceptable to them and they’ll do anything and everything to contain it.
In the meantime, one of the worlds best and most prestigious airlines is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place – trying to operate in difficult circumstances without aggravating the authorities, but undermining its now fragile relationship with many of its staff.