Hong Kong’s harsh quarantine policies have sparked a debate in the UK aviation authority over air safety and crew well-being, according to emails from Al Jazeera.
Civil Aviation (CAA) officials raised the issue of safety in November after the entire British Airways (BA) flight crew was sent to a quarantine camp in Hong Kong in response to a single crew member who tested positive for COVID. 19.
BA subsequently contacted the CAA seeking an exemption from flight time restrictions – known as FTL – to avoid going to Hong Kong and to put crews at risk of being quarantined in the future, citing and concerns about their mental health as conditions in the camp.
Following BA’s request, CAA officials expressed concern about the impact of Hong Kong’s quarantine policies on the mental well-being of flight crews, according to emails received following a request for freedom of information.
“Have we had any contact with HKG regarding the ‘detention’ of the crew, as described by BA?” A CAA official wrote to a colleague, referring to the Hong Kong government.
“Do we have channels we can explore?” Concerns about mental well-being are very real. It made operators use extended FTL to avoid downtime [sic] is in no one [sic] interest. ”
In response, the CAA colleague said he agreed that “the situation sounds pretty awful for the crew.”
“The fact that the new South African version was found at HKG probably didn’t help. This is not a topic we have dealt with – as different people / departments are likely to be involved in the UK, “he said before proposing that the British airline contact the Ministry of Transport officials responsible for multilateral / bilateral issues. crew. “
“I know there are security implications, but this kind of policy is defined elsewhere.
CAA officials involved in the discussions included Malcolm Ruby, head of the state’s security partnerships, although it is unclear who said what due to edits made in emails before their release.
In correspondence with the CAA in November, BA expressed concerns about “very basic comfort conditions” for the crew quarantined at the quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay in Hong Kong.
“There are also concerns about the mental health of the crew, who have been detained at the facility for an extended period of time,” a spokesman for the airline said.
“Significant diplomatic work is needed to release the crew from the facility before the end of the 21-day quarantine period, and in addition, the released crew is not allowed to leave HKG for passenger services. We only had to fly extra for freight to repatriate our crew. With the recent tightening of immigration policy, the continued viability of the HKG crew station has been called into question, both in terms of the duty of care and in terms of operational disruptions in the short term.
The British airline suspended flights to Hong Kong days after writing to the CAA, and in December announced that it would suspend all flights to the city until March.
In January, Al Jazeera spoke with four current and former pilots in Hong Kong, who said the city’s quarantine rules raised air safety concerns over the strain on pilots’ mental health and well-being.
Under Hong Kong’s strict zero-COVID policy, the aviation center imposed some of the longest quarantine stays in the world and imposed temporary bans on flights to many airlines and destinations.
In a rare easing of controls, authorities announced last week that mandatory quarantine for arriving passengers would be reduced from 21 to 14 days from February 5th.
A CAA spokesman told Al Jazeera that “it would not be appropriate” to comment on whether Hong Kong’s quarantine policies raise air safety concerns.
The spokesman said the supervisory authority had granted BA an exemption from the FTL for the London Heathrow-Hong Kong route in December following his request “on condition that a safety case be accepted” by the aviation supervisor.
FTL rules were developed by aviation regulators in the 1970s, when flight times rarely exceeded 14 hours, and exceptions were not uncommon in the long-distance era. Obtaining an exemption does not eliminate the need for airlines to meet basic safety requirements.
A BA spokesman said the airline had worked to balance “the need to comply with local regulations, ensure the safety and well-being of our teams, while providing consistent service to our customers”.
Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Authority referred to Al Jazeera in a previous statement stating that the crew has a legal obligation not to work if it deems unfit to fly, and airlines must “take appropriate measures to comply with the relevant public health and safety requirements’. .