Since August 12, thousands of anti-government demonstrators have occupied Hong Kong International Airport, causing the world’s busiest cargo airport to grind to a halt, with over 300 flight cancellations. The protests have impacted airport operations since the end of July, and have now escalated into complete cancellations of departing flights with logistics implications. While the majority of airlines tried to resume their flight schedules early on August 13, the latest sources report that all departing flights have been suspended for the rest of the day. In light of recent developments, the flow of goods via Hong Kong is likely to be negatively affected in the coming days.
Protests in and around Hong Kong International Airport
The current sit-in demonstrations emerged from the protests against the extradition bill that took place throughout the Special Administrative Region on March 31. The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, published on March 29 and subsequently suspended on June 15, would have allowed for the possibility of Hong Kong citizens being sent for trial to Mainland China. Fearing that this would be the end of Hong Kong’s current policy of “one country, two systems”, demonstrators called for the complete withdrawal of the bill.
The protests started to impact Hong Kong International Airport operations as early as July 26 as airport staff and employees of various airlines, including Cathay Pacific, participated in demonstrations. It involved some cooperation from Airport Authority employees and was restricted to Lennon Wall protests and pamphleteering. The organized activity began to progressively escalate on August 5, with an air traffic controller sick-out resulting in over 200 flight cancellations and runway utility reductions. Another round of demonstrations followed on August 9 and continued through to August 11, albeit this time without the cooperation of the Airport Authority. The demonstrations simultaneously intensified elsewhere in the region, resulting in injured protestors, with sit-in protest activity at Hong Kong airport escalating between August 11 and 12.
Departure of outbound flights halted
Despite the Hong Kong Airport Authority’s statement that airport operations would resume by 06:00 (local time) on August 13, over 300 flights have been canceled again as thousands of protestors continue to occupy the airport for the fourth consecutive day. Reports indicate that most passenger flights departing from 18:00 (local time), August 13 until at least 02:00 (local time), August 14 have been canceled. However, all inbound passenger flights will continue to operate as scheduled.
While departures and arrivals of most freighter aircraft are not affected, some cargo carriers that reported flight cancellations on August 13 include Yangtze River Express, China Cargo Airlines Ltd., UPS, Airbridge Cargo Airline, and SpiceJet. The flow of cargo to Ontario, Chengdu, and Shanghai has also been adversely impacted.
The passage of demonstrators and law enforcement officials, as well as disruptive activity associated with the protests, has resulted in interruptions to thoroughfares in the vicinity of the airport, and can thus be anticipated to complicate ground transportation movement. Sources, however, indicate that cross-border trucking activities are operating normally.
Future demonstrations likely
Given the ambiguous circumstances surrounding the suspension of the extradition bill by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on June 15, as well as the continued airing of grievances by protestors and escalated responses by the police, the unrest is expected to continue in the coming days. Without the cooperation of Airport Authority employees in future protests, the participation of aviation and ground transportation workers in demonstrations raises the possibility of further logistics disruption in Hong Kong.
Those conducting business at, with, or in the vicinity of Hong Kong International Airport should be mindful of the possibility of future demonstrations in connection with the anti-extradition bill protests and should plan accordingly. Those with outbound cargo from Hong Kong International Airport are advised to work with freight carriers to deploy contingency plans, including prioritization of shipments on freighter aircraft and long-haul passenger flights, as well as re-routing shipments on flights that are at high risk of being canceled.