The pilots of an Air New Zealand operated Boeing 787 Dreamliner were forced to make an emergency diversion to Hong Kong after the cockpit windscreen cracked but once on the ground local officials barred the crew members from getting off the plane because of pandemic fears.
The president of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association said the flight crew were stuck onboard the stricken aircraft for hours and had to remain onboard the plane until a “suitable extraction opportunity was presented.”
The Dreamliner was being operated as a cargo-only service and was heading to Guangzhou on the Chinese mainland loaded with perishable items fresh from New Zealand such as cherries, stone fruit and seafood, for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations.
“The unexpected arrival of an aircraft and its crew into Hong Kong presented some serious challenges with how the crew were subsequently handled,” explained Ridling.
“The Hong Kong authorities refused to process the crew which left them in a position of having to remain on the aircraft until a suitable extraction opportunity was presented.”
Under Hong Kong’s tough pandemic control measures, all arrivals by air must have tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of departure. There are no exceptions made for emergency diversions even though arriving aircrew are required to take a test as soon as they enter the airport terminal.
The Hong Kong authorities do not accept rapid antigen testing so the pilots wouldn’t have been able to quickly prove they were not infectious by taking a rapid test once they landed.
“We anticipate meeting with Air New Zealand to review the learnings in light of their risk mitigations,” Ridling told the New Zealand Herald.
“It is concerning in that the crew had no ability to rest in Hong Kong after an already arduous 12-hour duty. They were not able to enter the country.” Air New Zealand’s pilots are regularly tested for COVID-19 and there have been no reported cases of infection amongst the pilot workforce for the entire length of the pandemic.
The plane remains on the ground in Hong Kong following Thursday’s diversion while it awaits a replacement windscreen which is being delivered from Singapore. The 24 tonnes of cargo was successfully transported to Guangzhou with the help of a ‘partner’ airline.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.