Cathay Pacific has allegedly suspended at least three sets of cabin crew who were operating on aircraft where emergency oxygen bottles, that are only meant to be used in the event of a decompression, were found empty or partially depleted. No one has admitted responsibility for the three separate incidents and it’s still not known whether the oxygen bottles were emptied in a deliberate criminal act or by accident.
Last week, the Hong Kong-based airline group said it was taking “very seriously” the issue and had opened an investigation after two of its aircraft at Toronto Pearson airport had been found with empty oxygen bottles. Of the 22 bottles on each aircraft, eight had been found empty on one and five were either empty or partially empty on the other.
Several days later, it was revealed that a crew oxygen bottle on a Cathay Dragon aircraft parked overnight at Hong Kong International Airport had been found empty. The bottles had apparently been checked by crew before arrival into Hong Kong during the previous flight from Bali and at that point they were all full.
According to the South China Morning Post, the airline sent a memo to staffers on Monday detailing a raft of new security processes in light of the recent incidents. Along with enhanced but relatively straight-forward in-flight security checks that are completed at least every 60-minutes – like checking lavatories for suspicious devices or threats and keeping an eye on passenger behaviour – new security processes will also be introduced.
The security procedures include enhanced pre-flights checks on emergency equipment likes oxygen bottles, medical equipment, smoke hoods and torches. Cabin crew have also been instructed to carry out a check of this equipment prior to arrival and report any changes immediately.
In addition, it’s been reported that the flight attendants who operated the flights where oxygen bottles were found to be empty have been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation that is being overseen by the Hong Kong Police Force, as well as civil aviation authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China.
The leaked internal memo simply said that the cabin crew in question will have their rosters wiped and replaced with ‘Duty to be assigned’ – insiders claim this is code for being suspended.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the airline confirmed that cabin crew would not be operating flights until the inquiry was concluded. Other workers, including ground staff, engineers and third party suppliers like caterers, are also facing scrutiny from investigators.
The spokesperson said of the new security regimen:
“Recently, we have further strengthened our security measures to now include preflight, in-flight and post-landing checks for every flight to ensure all emergency equipment is serviceable so that the safety of our crew and passengers is upheld at all times.”
Cathay Pacific has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks because of anti-government protests that have gripped Hong Kong. The airline has been targeted by Beijing for apparently putting flight safety at risk because staff were supporting the protests. Cathay didn’t initially object to its staff speaking out but has since led a clampdown on the orders of Chinese authorities.