Air safety rules may be over the top, pilot says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 3:59am

Hong Kong Airlines has been subject to close scrutiny and occasional bouts of ridicule by some in the city's piloting community since its 2006 launch and throughout its rapid expansion.

The snipes against the airline have sometimes been boosted rather than deflated by the management's reaction to incidents such as the one in 2008 when a South Korea-bound Hong Kong Airlines plane reportedly tried to take off from a taxiway rather than a runway.

As a response to the incident, all the airline's pilots were sent maps of the layout of Chek Lap Kok with a memo instructing them: "Ensure you are on a runway before taking off."

Other instances of Hong Kong Airlines grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons include a November 2011 incident when a flight was held hostage by passengers after landing at Chek Lap Kok over compensation offered for a nine-hour delay at Changi Airport. One of the longest-running threads on the pilots' forum Fragrant Harbour, with hundreds of thousands of views, is titled "The Demise of Hong Kong Airlines" and highlights alleged management failures and cockpit bungles.

Despite the public relations headaches, however, the airline continues to grow, and fears voiced by Christopher Allan over the way Hong Kong Airlines is run may be overstated, according to a senior serving Cathay Pacific captain.

The captain, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged there was a "general concern" among pilots in Hong Kong about standards at the airline but he said: "What is happening seems to be symptomatic of the industry at the moment. Pilots are getting hired with less experience, and it is expensive to fail a pilot on his proficiency. Training is becoming more constrained in the airline industry in general. You are getting less time and people are relaxing standards. It is a worldwide concern."

However, he said: "Aircraft nowadays are inherently safe - there hasn't been a major accident for a long time now - and Hong Kong Airlines uses new aircraft which seem to be maintained fairly well.

"[The Civil Aviation Department] has to maintain minimum standards and if they do that, there is very little more that you can do. Hong Kong Airlines might have lower standards but if they meet the minimum requirements, what is the problem?

"It is difficult to say there will be a hull loss. People keep saying that about budget airlines in Europe but they don't have accidents and their safety records are pretty good."

One aspect that might colour the opinions of experienced pilots like Allan was the rigorously high training and safety standards at Cathay, Allan's former airline, he suggested.

"Cathay is old fashioned in some respects," the captain said. "We have more than the minimum standards. Some people might even say Cathay has unnecessarily high standards."