Hong Kong Airlines postpones public debut of new US$229 million training centre, citing ‘recurring issues’ in city following city protests

Danny Lee

Hong Kong Airlines has postponed the public debut of its new HK$1.8 billion (US$229 million) training centre, with sources indicating the move was necessary because a court order protecting the city’s airport was unlikely to be lifted before October.

“Unfortunately, due to the recurring issues in Hong Kong, we regret to inform you that the opening ceremony of Hong Kong Airlines Training Academy will now proceed as an internal event instead,” the airline said on Wednesday in a statement.

The unveiling of the 11-storey training centre on the airport island of Chek Lap Kok was originally scheduled for September 25. The facility will have 12 flight simulators, an aircraft cabin mock-up, as well as training areas for emergency situations. It is also to include a 25-metre training pool for evacuation training.

According to an aviation source, the Airport Authority told the airline it could not carry out all its public activities for the unveiling of the training centre because of the court injunction that bans anti-government protesters from disrupting operations at Hong Kong’s airport.

The source said the injunction was expected to remain in force until at least October 1, which is both National Day and the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

The airport operator obtained an injunction on August 14 to prevent protesters from interfering with Hong Kong’s airport after mass demonstrations on August 12 and August 13 caused the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights.

The injunction was renewed by the High Court on August 23, making it effective until further review.

Despite the court order, protesters on September 1 managed to successfully “stress test” transport links to the airport, halting Airport Express trains, disrupting bus routes and jamming up roads.

Travellers and airline crew were forced to get off their buses and make their way to the airport on foot as protesters crippled airport services on September 1. Photo: Felix Wong

Airport staff responded to the injunction by launching measures to restrict protesters from entering the airport, such as only admitting travellers with valid boarding passes.

The court order banned unlawful and wilful obstruction of the airport and nearby roads, and confined demonstrations to two designated areas in the arrival hall.

Another attempt to “stress test” airport transport links on September 7 did not take place. Further demonstrations have been scheduled for September 13 and September 21.

Change in rail plans as protesters target Hong Kong airport again

An Airport Authority spokesman said: “According to the order of the High Court on August 23, 2019, the injunction order will remain in force until trial or further order.”

A Hong Kong Airlines spokesman said the airline’s operations would not be affected by the injunction, despite the delayed public opening of its training centre.

Last month, the loss-making airline blamed its financial problems on the citywide demonstrations, which have regularly turned violent.

Airline employees were recently told they could be asked to take unpaid leave or accept reduced working hours because of a cash flow shortfall caused by thousands of travellers postponing or cancelling trips.

The number of passengers carried by Hong Kong Airlines in the past three months decreased year on year by more than 13 per cent in August.

Bookings for September to December have dropped by 30 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the airline – which carried 7.64 million passengers in 2018.

Hong Kong Airlines currently has around 3,700 employees, including more than 600 pilots and around 1,800 flight attendants.

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