View Full Version : Strife at Cathay Brings To Light a Near-Disaster

2nd Aug 2001, 19:43
August 2, 2001
Strife at Cathay Brings
To Light a Near-Disaster
By Zach Coleman
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

HONG KONG -- The confrontation between Cathay Pacific Airways and its pilots' union has brought to light a publicly undisclosed incident last year in which a high-profile Cathay flight experienced a potentially catastrophic system failure because of a maintenance error at the airline's engineering center in China.

The Jan. 17, 2000, flight carried no passengers and involved a Boeing 747-400 jet specially painted with the winning "Spirit of Hong Kong" design of a 15-year-old local student in a world-wide promotional competition that attracted more than 3,000 entries. The repainting of the jet, however, left behind residue that caused a key sensor to malfunction in flight, producing conflicting readings on cockpit flight instruments and setting off an alarm indicating the aircraft was about to stall.

The pilots were able to turn off the alarm, the instrument discrepancies eventually cleared up, and the plane landed normally before a crowd of VIPs at Hong Kong International Airport. A Cathay news release afterward made no mention of the flight's difficulties, but the stress of the experience caused the captain involved to take extended leave to seek medical attention afterward.

Reports of the incident have recently surfaced because the captain on the flight was one of the 52 pilots fired last month by Cathay despite the "good airmanship" that Cathay's corporate-development director, Tony Tyler, said the captain and his co-pilot showed.

Mr. Tyler said he couldn't comment on the reasons for individual firings. The airline has cited "loss of confidence" as the general reason for the terminations, which came days after the pilots' union began a "go slow" campaign to pressure Cathay into pay and duty-scheduling concessions. The captain, whose name Cathay didn't disclose, couldn't be reached for comment.

The plane's design, of a young athlete overcoming a series of challenges, "celebrates Hong Kong's legendary resilience," said Cathay's chairman, James Hughes-Hallett, at the time. The airline said then that the repainting "took four weeks and involved more than 30 people working around the clock." The work was done by the Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Co. center in Xiamen, which is 9%-owned by Cathay and 45%-owned by sister company Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co., or Haeco. Japan Airlines, Boeing Co. and a Singapore Airlines unit are also shareholders in the center, known as Taeco.

According to the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department and Haeco, a post-flight investigation determined that the failure of a sensor that measures the plane's angle and orientation with the ground was due to residue left behind by tape used to cover the jet's sensors during the repainting.

Afterward, Taeco increased quality inspections of its maintenance work and switched to better-quality tape that doesn't leave residue, said Maisie Shun Wah, a spokeswoman for Haeco. Mr. Tyler said Cathay is "absolutely satisfied" with the procedural changes at Taeco. Haeco has been shifting much of the heavy maintenance work it does for Cathay and others to Taeco from Hong Kong. Boeing last week said it would move some passenger-to-freighter conversion work to Taeco from its own factory in Wichita, Kansas. "In a very short time it's built a very good reputation for quality," said Mr. Tyler, who is also a director of Haeco.

beaver eager
3rd Aug 2001, 22:15
I just wanted to bring this back to the top...

As a perfect example of how poor the Cathay management is and how it will surely come back to haunt them at some indeterminate time in the future.

I just can't see the point of treating your front line staff so badly when they have so much input into the overall efficiency (and hence profitability) of your airline.