Published: Sat, August 17, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

Cathay Pacific chief executive resigns amid protest row

Cathay Pacific chief executive resigns amid protest row

Rupert Hogg, CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways, resigned suddenly on Friday after mainland China tightened oversight of the Hong Kong airline's safety protocols amid protests in the special administrative region (SAR).

Hogg, 57, resigned as a way of taking responsibility amid recent events, said the airline, Hong Kong's flag carrier.

Cathay also said Friday its Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Paul Loo resigned, and will be replaced by Ronald Lam, now head of the Hong Kong Express budget business.

He has been replaced by Augustus Tang, a veteran of the Swire Group conglomerate, Cathay's main shareholder.

John Slosar, the company's chairman, said Friday that recent events "put our reputation and brand under pressure" and that new leadership could "reset confidence".

Mr Hogg said these had been "challenging weeks" and it was right for him and Mr Loo to take responsibility as leaders.

Ten weeks of protests have plunged the global finance hub into crisis with the communist mainland taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labelling the more violent protester actions "terrorist-like".

Cathay shares plumbed 10-year lows on Tuesday, but rebounded the next day after the airline condemned the protests, vowed to follow Chinese aviation regulations and terminated the employment of two pilots.

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China's aviation regulator demanded any staff involved or supportive of the protests be removed from duty on flights to or over mainland airspace.

Enrong Song (宋恩榮), a visiting professor at the same university, said it was obvious China's government was behind the pressure on Cathay Pacific. By targeting a Hong Kong airline that competes with Chinese mainland carriers, CAAC is tilting the competitive playing field.

Chinese paramilitary troops have been training this week in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, in a clear warning to the protesters.

On Wednesday, Cathay Pacific fired two pilots over incidents connected to the city's anti-government protests. The statement also clarified that Cathay Pacific strongly supports the "one country, two systems" principle and remains optimistic about Hong Kong's future.

As Hong Kong's dominant local airline, Cathay was initially affected by the protests because the unrest put off tourists.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday that Hong Kong's 1997 Basic Law, under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy when the former British colony returned to China, "is a Chinese law, and as such we naturally expect that the People's Republic of China, too, won't call into question the peaceful exercise of these rights". "We are responsive. If there are no violent charging at our check lines, no one attacking us, attacking our police station, we are not gonna use force to stop it". Thousands of flights were cancelled amid ugly scenes at the city's airport when protesters set upon men they suspected were Chinese agents.

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