Baseless US accusation about Hong Kong flights not helpful for airlines: officials
Published: Mar 18, 2021 05:05 PM
An aircraft operated by Cathay Pacific Airways takes off at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on March 9, 2021. Photo: VCG

An aircraft operated by Cathay Pacific Airways takes off at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on March 9, 2021. Photo: VCG

The Hong Kong special administrative regional government on Thursday condemned a recent US order which requests several Hong Kong designated airlines provide flight schedule to the US side to see any move to "affect the public interest," is "unfounded," and the US accusation does not serve the interest of all airlines serving destinations in Hong Kong and the US.

The announcement came after the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued an order, requiring Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, Hong Kong Airlines Ltd and Hong Kong Express Ltd to file flight schedules for all US flights within seven days to determine if any flight would be contrary to applicable law or adversely affect the public interest.

Reuters reported that while FedEx's Hong Kong-based crews serve only intra-Asia routings and therefore do not benefit from the Anchorage exception, citing USDOT, as Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific operates a large transshipment operation at Anchorage.

"This carve out effectively provides Cathay Pacific with the ability to continue those operations without impact from the new crew quarantine requirements," said USDOT.

The move is widely regarded as the response after the Hong Kong government said on February 5 that it will tighten the regulations on exempted persons, including the air crew members.

The rule stated that from February 20 onward, all air crew members who have been present in any location outside China during the 21 days prior to arrival in Hong Kong must self-isolate at an airport hotel.

To cater for the operational needs of aviation sector, there have some exempted arrangement for the airline's operation. 

One of the exemptions is to allow local based freighter crew who has only laid over in Anchorage in Alaska of the US, under a rigorous closed-loop management to be exempted from self-isolation upon arrival in Hong Kong SAR.

The decision came after a critical review of the pandemic situation and contingent upon the relevant airline's full compliance with stringent self-isolation requirements during the layover at Anchorage, the Hong Kong Transport and Housing Bureau said in an e-mail to the Global Times on Thursday. 

Equal for everyone 

The tightened requirements and the exemption arrangement are equally applicable to all airlines, both local and foreign, operating in Hong Kong with local crew.  Hence, the HKSAR government considers the US' accusation of denial of the US carriers' right to a fair and equal opportunity to compete in the US-Hong Kong flight market is totally baseless, and that such accusation does not serve the best interest of all airlines serving Hong Kong and the US, the bureau added. 

Hong Kong Airlines Ltd and Hong Kong Express Ltd currently have no US-bound flight services.

Cathay Pacific said in a reply to the Global Times late Wednesday that "the introduction of new crew quarantine measures on February 20 has hit Cathay Pacific hard," as these new crew quarantine measures only impact airlines with Hong Kong-based aircrew. 

All foreign carriers without Hong Kong-based aircrews remain unaffected. As the home carrier of Hong Kong, the vast majority of their aircrew are Hong Kong-based.

The carrier said as a result of crew resource constraints, their weekly freighter frequency between Hong Kong and the US has been reduced from the usual 35-39 flights to 21-28 flights.

They have had to cut passenger capacity by about 60 percent of January 2021 levels, and their cargo capacity by about 25 percent of January 2021 levels, while operating costs have increased by about HK$300-400 million per month. 

Cathay Pacific believes that it is in the interest of the general and traveling public for this matter to be resolved among all relevant parties as soon as possible.

Market watchers said each country and region is responsible for its own epidemic prevention measures, and such restriction is to protect the interests of everyone, not to prevent trade in goods. 

"What the US should do is to think about how to do a good job on epidemic prevention on itself, instead of judging others' policies, and there is actually no reason for such a countermeasure," Qi Qi, an aviation market watcher told the Global Times on Thursday.

Earlier, the Hong Kong government said starting from December 25, those who have been outside China on the day of arrival at Hong Kong airport or during the 21 days before that day have to undergo compulsory quarantine for 21 days in designated quarantine hotels.

FedEx told GT at that time that they may have a temporary modification of their HK base, and media reported that it could be San Francisco.

Hong Kong Transport and the Housing Bureau said they have been in discussion with FedEx and will continue to engage FedEx in constructive dialogues, with a view to exploring other potential options.

Our aim is to address any such issues in an amicable manner that serve in the best interests of the operation of the company as well as other airlines, both local and foreign, in Hong Kong as a whole, the bureau added.