Officials imposed serious sanctions on Hong Kong Express after the airline stranded thousands of passengers over the busy Chinese holiday travel season known as Golden Week.
It is estimated 710 million travelers took advantage of the Golden Week holidays this year in China. The record-breaking holiday travel numbers were a boon for nearly every facet of the tourism and travel industries. Hong Kong Express Airways, however, had a rotten holiday by just about any standard.
The Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)-based ultra-low-cost-carrier was forced to cancel dozens of flights stranding thousands of passengers over the record-breaking holiday travel period. Now, Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is imposing serious sanctions on the carrier in response to the Golden Week meltdown in operations.
The punishment, described by regulators as “the harshest penalty in 20 years,” was handed down on Thursday. The ruling means that Hong Kong Express is now indefinitely prohibited from purchasing new aircraft, adding new routes or expanding current service until the airline can prove to regulators that a number of persistent management and operational issues have been resolved.
“Further business expansion can only be considered when the management problems are tackled at the root,” a CAD spokesperson told the South China Morning Post. “Hong Kong Express will only be allowed to operate new destinations and flights when the CAD is satisfied it has implemented various rectifying measures effectively.”
Company officials had argued that the unprecedented series of delays and flight cancellations were caused by a mass exodus of certified safety trainers from the airline’s ranks. The staff departures in turn led to a temporary shortage of certified employees. The CAD, under mounting pressure to come down hard on the carrier after critical public statements from Chinese political figures, considered the staffing issues to be reason enough for Hong Kong Express to halt any and all thoughts of expansion – at least for the time being.