Asia Business Channel

Hong Kong airport forced to close by protests

An estimated 5,000 protesters forced Hong Kong’s International Airport to close on Monday.

As Hong Kong enters its tenth week of protests, a new milestone was set as Hong Kong’s airport authority cancelled all flights on Monday as an estimated 5,000 protesters occupied the airport, one of Asia's busiest transport hubs.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority announced in a statement that, “Other than departure flights that have completed the check- in process and the arrival flights already heading to Hong Kong, all other flights have been canceled for the rest of today.”

Hong Kong airports arrival and departures board shows dozens of flights being cancelled

Thousands of protesters packed the arrival area, where they had gathered for a three-day sit-in that was originally planned to end on Sunday night. The protests were started ten weeks earlier due to citizen opposition to a government bill that would allow extradition of Hong Kong citizens to Mainland China. Since that time, protests have increased and demonstrators are now targeting public transportation such as the airport and subway system in a bid to pressure the government.

Travelers who were at the airport faced major delays in both entering and leaving Hong Kong and passengers were told by airport and airline staff to leave the terminal as soon as possible. Protesters have previously staged protests at the airport, but those demonstrations did not interrupt any of the operations at the airport.

The Hong Kong International airport is the fourth busiest airport in the region and is a major hub for international airlines to North and Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle-East and the United States. 

Early in the day it was estimated that more than five thousands people had joined a sit-in protest in the public areas of the airport to voice their anger at the Hong Kong government, and alleged police brutality at protests in the city this weekend.

In related news, stock in Cathay Pacific Airlines fell to a 10 year low today, after the announcement of the airport closing, and the announcement last Friday that it had ordered the airline to reprimand any employees who were supporting the protests. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told the airline that any staff members who had taken part in what it called "illegal protests", "violent actions" and "overly radical activities" would not be allowed to fly to or from the mainland.

Cathay Pacific staff protesting at the Hong Kong airport in favor of protesters

The CAAC also said on Friday that the airline would be required to submit identification details of all crew operating all services using mainland China airspace, and that flights with unapproved crew lists would be barred. It gave the airline until Thursday to submit a detailed plan to improve its procedures.

On last Wednesday, John Slosar, Chairman of Cathay Pacific had said the company would not rein in staff for openly supporting the protests or taking part in demonstrations. Slosar said, "We certainly wouldn't dream of telling them what they have to think about something." However, in response to the CACC’s new directive, Rupert Hogg CEO of Cathay Pacific said on Monday that staff that "support or participate in illegal protests" would face disciplinary action that "may include termination of employment." 

Financial analysts believe that Cathay Pacific is now facing its greatest crisis since the airline was founded as it is under pressure from employees who believe they have a legal right to protest and a government who is considering banning its flights.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV published a short video on Weibo on Monday morning with an explicit warning to Cathay Pacific when its news anchor said, "If this continues, it's not a matter of whether or not people would still want to come to Hong Kong, but whether they would still want to be on your airline.”




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