- Beleaguered company had already been investigating previous incidents for more than five weeks
- Sabotage comes at a tough time for the group, with local unrest causing reduced passenger numbers and pressure from Beijing
Hong Kong's aviation regulator has demanded the heads of both Cathay Pacific Airways and Cathay Dragon improve security measures even further after three more cases of improperly deflated oxygen bottles on aircraft emerged on Friday.
"In view of the similar incidents that have occurred since the safety inspections were implemented, we have summoned the chief executives of both airlines to request security inspection procedures are further enhanced," the Civil Aviation Department said in a statement.
The suspected sabotage of life-saving cabin equipment added to the problems faced by Hong Kong's largest airline group, raising questions about the effectiveness of measures taken to stop it, and efforts to catch the culprits.
The latest incident occurred on September 16 on an Osaka-bound Cathay Pacific flight.
A portable oxygen bottle had its shut-off valve mistakenly opened during a routine check by cabin crew. The incident was reported to authorities and police as a precaution, the airline said without further elaboration.
In two previously undisclosed incidents, a bottle each was opened on two Cathay Dragon flights on September 1 and 4, from Da Nang and Kaohsiung respectively.
The troubled company had already been investigating three earlier cases for more than five weeks. After the most recent incident three weeks ago, it called in police and the CAD to investigate.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China was also investigating.
Crew members typically use the canisters to move around the cabin in the rare event of an emergency depressurisation.
"We have informed the CAD and police of six instances where some portable oxygen bottles stored on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon aircraft had been found to be in a low-pressure state," an airline spokeswoman said in a statement.
"The issues were all identified during routine inspections that are carried out before and after every flight."
A spokeswoman for the CAD said: "For reasons of aviation security, we are not in a position to disclose details."
She added the regulator was "highly concerned" about the six cases.
Cathay Pacific strengthened security protocols for staff on flights in light of the mysterious tampering, checking cabin safety equipment every 60 minutes instead of before and after each flight.
Among earlier changes not previously disclosed, "transit teams" " who help refuel, handle luggage and clean the plane between arrival and departure " were also tasked with checking oxygen bottles, to narrow the accountability of people entering planes.
Richard Howell, general manager of group safety and operational risk management at the company, said: "Running a safe and secure operation is and always will be our greatest priority. We have robust pre-flight checks in place to identify any irregularities and to ensure all emergency equipment is serviceable so that the safety of our crew and passengers is upheld at all times.
"We have communicated with our cabin crew and employees the importance of maintaining impeccable safety standards at all times. There is no compromise in this area," he added.
More flight attendants have been taken off flying duties after the latest revelations as part of the investigation, adding to about 40 crew members who were suspended when the earlier cases came to light.
Some crew members had been "fully cleared" and resumed flying duties, while an unknown number "continue to assist in the investigation," the airline said.
Two flights which arrived in Toronto on August 17 and 18 were found to have five and eight discharged or partially discharged oxygen bottles respectively. Both flights used Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which carry 22 bottles each. The airline disclosed the incidents on August 27.
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On August 30, an oxygen bottle was found emptied on a Cathay Dragon plane which had been left overnight at a remote parking stand at Hong Kong International Airport.
The CAD and police were contacted for comment.
Cathay Pacific has had to confront a sharp decline in customer numbers as anti-government protests deter people from travelling to the city, as well as pressure from Beijing over its stance on the protests " factors which have led to steep declines in business on mainland China routes.
The airline's chairman John Slosar is retiring, while CEO Rupert Hogg and chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo Kar-pui left their jobs amid the fallout from the safety warning from the mainland regulator.
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