Cathay Pacific shares plunge after China warning on protests

by AFP/ pic by BLOOMBERG

Shares in Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific plunged more than four percent on Monday, after Beijing banned airline staff supporting Hong Kong protesters from flights going through the mainland.

Cathay shares lost 4.37 percent to HK$9.85 by the break in Hong Kong, with the carrier’s parent company Swire Pacific Ltd. plunging 5.26 percent to HK$77.50.

The nosedive comes as the airline is caught up in pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong for more than two months.

On Friday, Beijing’s aviation regulator ordered Cathay to submit a list of the identities of staff working on flights to the mainland or passing through its airspace.

It warned any staff members involved in “illegal protests” would be banned from such flights.

Cathay’s CEO Rupert Hogg said in a message to staff on Saturday that the airline was obliged to comply with the new rules set out by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

“Cathay Pacific Group’s operations in mainland China are key to our business. In addition to flying in and out of mainland China, a large number of our routes both to Europe and to the USA also fly through mainland China airspace,” Hogg wrote.

“We are therefore legally required to follow CAAC regulations and, as is the case with any notices issued by any regulatory authority having jurisdiction over us, we must and will comply.”

Cathay appears to have become a target of Beijing’s ire after some of its crew joined protests and media reported one of its pilots had been charged with rioting.

The carrier’s chairman John Slosar has defended his staff’s right to freedom of thought, saying “we certainly wouldn’t dream of telling them what they have to think about something”.

But Hogg cautioned staff about their behaviour.

“Though people may share different views, it is essential that we all respect each other, our customers and members of the public,” he wrote.

Cathay has suspended a pilot who has been accused of rioting after allegedly participating in the Hong Kong protests.

And it said Saturday that it had fired two airport ground staff, without specifying why. Local media reported that they were accused of leaking the travel details of a Hong Kong police football team that was travelling to the mainland.