The violent protests at Hong Kong International Airport earlier this week have subsided for now and scheduled services are starting to return to normal. To avoid further disruptions at one of Asia's busiest airports, the HK Airport Authority (HKAA) has secured an injunction which will prevent pro-democracy protesters from “unlawfully and willfully obstructing” airport operations.
Only departing passengers with a valid ticket or boarding pass for a flight in the next 24 hours and a valid travel document, or airport staff with relevant identification document will be
allowed to enter the terminal buildings until further notice.
No disruption of freighter flights
While hundreds of protesters caused serious disruptions in passenger flights for two days, various reports said the chaotic protests had not caused major delays to cargo shipments, although numerous flights with belly-hold cargo had been cancelled by a number of carriers.
Freighter services continued to operate on schedule during the disruptions, experts said, adding that due to the global economic downturn as well as the on-going tariff war between the US and China, the industry was currently facing a slack season. Backlog of cargo shipments had been minimal, and rates had remained steady, they noted.
HKG’s image is damaged
Nevertheless, images of riot police clashing with protesters at the airport have seriously dented Hong Kong's reputation as a stable place to do business. The protests, initially against a bill allowing extraditions to China, which later evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms in the former British crown colony and now semi-autonomous city, have been going on for almost three months.
Although the negative effects on the supply chain have been minimal so far, the prospect of further disruptions could hit the territory’s reputation as a transport hub noted the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (HAFFA) in a statement.
Poisoned political climate
HAFFA strongly opposes disruption to the normal operation of the airport, HAFFA said in its statement, adding that "If such disruption continues, it will undermine Hong Kong's reputation as an international transportation hub and the world's busiest cargo airport. It will have a far-reaching impact on Hong Kong and have a serious, adverse effect on the economy as a whole.
The Association also noted that it "respects the freedom to express opinions lawfully and peacefully. All parties must resolve their differences through rational dialogue and constructive communication so that society can restore peace and prosperity as soon as possible."
Cathay Group hit hardest
Meanwhile, the impact of the protests on the many airlines operating in and out Hong Kong, was mainly felt by the city's de facto flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways. Together with Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair) and recently acquired low-cost carrier HK Express, the airline has more than 50% of the Hong Kong market and as such was forced to cancel dozens of flights.
Aggravating the situation for Cathay was that, after several members of its staff were reportedly participating in the protests, the airline was taken to task by Beijing's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which issued a set of new regulations as part of its "zero-tolerance policy on safety and security."
New CAAC rules
Under these new rules, Cathay would have to comply with several requirements, including that all staff who took part in or supported “illegal protests, violence and other radical activities” should be banned from operating flights to and from mainland China, and carrying out other activities related to air transportation in mainland China.
The new rules also insist that Cathay submits the identity information of all crews operating flights to, from or through mainland China for approval. Flights without such approval will not be certified to fly in Chinese airspace. Another requirement is that Cathay must submit to the CAAC by Aug. 15 the measures it will take to strengthen internal management and control and improve flight safety and security.
Considering Cathay's exposure to mainland China, it was unsurprising the carrier announced it would follow the new CAAC regulations. It has meanwhile fired two airport employees and suspended a pilot who faces rioting charges from the Hong Kong protests.
Nol van Fenema