HK Express cancels more flights after on-boarding acting CEO

HK Express has scrapped five more flights, bringing the total cancellations to 23, after the troubled budget airline's CEO Andrew Cowen was sacked in the wake of the flight disruptions during peak season, The Standard reports.

The budget carrier replaced its CEO Andrew Cowen following the sudden cancellation of more than a dozen flights during China’s weeklong National Day holiday, after a procedural issue left it short staffed, affecting vacation plans for hundreds of travelers.

Following the travel chaos, HK Express, whose investors include China’s HNA Group, announced the appointment of Zhong Guosong as its new executive chairman and acting CEO, with effect from 4 October.

The airline did not comment on Cowen's departure in their press statement. But Reuters has quoted two insiders as saying that Cowen and two other executives had departed as a result of the flight cancellation chaos.

Another report suggested human resources director Christopher Thomas was replaced by Stanley Yau, a counterpart at Hong Kong Airlines, and president Jimmy Ma had also left.

As part of its Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) conditions, CAD requires crew members of locally-registered airlines to complete safety training at least once every 13 months. In the past, CAD said HK Express had requested that its staff complete the training once every 12 months, as is stated in its operations manual.

However, in August this year, HK Express informed the regulator that its entire complement of safety trainers would resign from the airline shortly. They had been due to undergo a scheduled assessment by CAD at the time of their departure. As such, CAD says it then requested the airline to provide it with a detailed plan covering causes and solution to the impending manpower shortage.

CAD said that following another inquiry in early September, HK Express management claimed that a short-term contingency plan had been worked out, which included employing two resigned trainers to return to provide training temporarily, employing two additional trainers from a third party on a contract basis, and amending the crew's annual training period in its operations manual from 12 months to 13 months as required by the legislation.

HK Express reportedly told CAD in mid-September that the vacant safety training posts had been filled with recruits undergoing the requisite training. Once completed, it would then file an application for assessment. It subsequently asked to amend its operations manual to allow for a 13-month scrutinisation period as required by legislation. CAD dually agreed.

As the new head of the company, Zhong's first area of focus is working on understanding what has transpired in the airline recently, in order to implement improvements to ensure HK Express continues to serve the Hong Kong public.

In an official statement, it was explained that Zhong is drafting plans to meet with management and reach out to employees, to fully understand their needs.

He will also liaise closely with the relevant local authorities, including the Civil Aviation Department to establish efficient communications channels and effective implementation mechanisms between the two parties to ensure smoother operations in the future.

Zhong previously served as vice president of HK Express for seven years.