Citing the “unpredictability” of the situation in Hong Kong, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) has taken the unprecedented step of cancelling the 63rd Assembly of Presidents later this month.
The AAPA says the decision to cancel the annual meeting was taken after “careful deliberation” together with the host airline Cathay Pacific Airways. The annual gathering of the chief executives of 16 Asian carriers along with industry partners and media, had been scheduled for 21-22 November, barely two blocks from the protest epicentre in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong.
“This was a difficult decision, given our commitment to organise this important industry event, but reflects the unpredictability of the situation in Hong Kong,” the AAPA says.
That “unpredictablilty”, a polite understatement at best, comes as the former British colony continues its slide into worsening violence as Beijing appears to be growing restless with the lack of resolution.
Months of protests over what many Hong Kong residents see as an erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Chinese territory, took a sharp turn this past weekend when an unarmed protester who died after being shot by police at point-blank range. Police have repeatedly been accused of using excessive violence from early on the in the protests, something they deny.
The shooting has sparked consecutive days of protests during busy working hours, something that is atypical of the protests until now. The protests have also spread to university campuses which have become the latest battle grounds in the ongoing fight between protesters and police.
Expressing its disappointment, the AAPA says it, “deeply regrets the inconvenience and disappointment caused by this change of plans. We are reaching out to all registered participants in the coming days and will provide assistance as necessary.”
The Cathay Pacific Group itself has taken a beating over the ongoing protests, suffering not only greatly diminished passenger numbers, but repercussions from Beijing that forced both its CEO and chairman – both UK nationals – to leave the company. A number of employees were also fired at China’s behest because of their involvement in protests.
The airline group on Wednesday further lowered its full-year profit forecast, warning that the second half of 2019 would be “significantly below” the first six months of the year and the short-term outlook remained “challenging and uncertain”.
The airline says its advanced bookings “continue to show weakness in both inbound and outbound travel”, and said that trend was only partly offset by an increase in passengers transiting through Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific says it faces a triple whammy of reduced passenger volume, less busy flights and lower airfares.
The 16 members of the AAPA include:
•All Nippon Airways
•Cathay Pacific Airways
•Royal Brunei Airlines
•Thai Airways International
Notably there are no member airlines from China other than Cathay Pacific and Dragon, both Hong Kong-based.