Cathay Pacific suspends employees for involvement in Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific seen at Hong Kong International Airport.

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Cathay Pacific shares fell more than 4% Monday after the carrier announced it had suspended a pilot for its involvement in Hong Kong's protests against the government.

The airline said Saturday that employees who "support or participate in illegal protests, violent acts or overly radical behavior" would be barred from staffing flights to mainland China. It also confirmed that one of the pilots was removed from his position since July 30.

The pilot was reportedly among over 40 people charged with the riot, during clashes with police near Beijing's main city representative office.

Hong Kong ̵[ads1]1; a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 – has struggled to end this week's protests as the last few weeks have become increasingly violent and disruptive.

The rallies, which started to protest a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to mainland China, have snowballed into a democracy movement, with some even demanding full autonomy from Beijing.

Unrest has often crippled the Asian financial hub's transport system, and last Monday Cathay canceled hundreds of flights during a general strike.

China cites aviation & # 39; threat & # 39;

Cathay's decision came a day after China's aviation authority issued a "major aviation security risk alert" to the airline.

The Civil Aviation Authority said that "on several occasions" Cathay's air crew has participated in "violent assaults," according to CNBC's translation.

"The incidents pose a serious threat to aviation security, causing adverse societal impact, and as a result increase incoming aviation security threats from Hong Kong to the mainland," it states.

It also ordered the carrier to provide identification information for its crew on mainland flights, saying that crew members who do not receive the authority's approval will not be allowed into the airspace, including on flights heading to other destinations.

As protests continue, many companies have expressed concern about losing access to the world's second largest economy. Commitment from the Aviation Authority in China could raise more questions about whether companies will have to take sides.

"Although people can share different views, it is important that we all respect each other, our customers and the public. We have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior that affects the safe operation of our flights and the service experience we provide to our customers," said Cathay- CEO Rupert Hogg in a statement to staff Saturday.

He said that operations in mainland China were key to the company's operations and that it must comply with China's Civil Aviation Administration requests and regulations.

Cathay owns more than 18% of China's flagship, Air China, which in turn owns a stake of just under 30% of the Hong Kong carrier, according to Reuters.

The company told CNBC in an email: "We do not give anyone any view on the case about any lawsuit that he (the pilot) may be subject to. As all our actions and responsibilities are focused on the safety and security of our operations . "

Just days before the announcement of the pilot's suspension, Cathay Chairman John Slosar said his company – which employs 27,000 employees in Hong Kong – respects different thoughts and believes that staff have the right to hold any political view, since they are "all adults" and "service professionals."

"You can easily imagine that within the 27,000 we have practically every opinion on every question … we would certainly not dream of telling them what they have to think about something," he said at the time.

– Reuters contributed to this report.

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