Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hong Kong civil aviation regulator looks into allegation that Eva Air gave staff perks on Taipei flight: Air traffic controllers were allowed access to VIP lounge in Taipei airport and three were upgraded to business class while on a personal trip

Hong Kong’s aviation authority is looking into allegations that some of its staff received preferential treatment from Taiwanese carrier Eva Air on a personal trip to Taipei.

Around a dozen Civil Aviation Department (CAD) staff benefited from free perks while flying with Eva Air.

It is alleged that the civil servants informed the Taiwanese carrier beforehand of their government status to ensure they received the perks, according to a report published by the Oriental Daily News on Saturday.

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Three members of the group, who were of a more senior rank, were upgraded to business class instead of economy on their flight on May 3. 

The entire group was allowed to use the VIP room at Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei on their arrival.

The CAD confirmed that 11 air traffic controllers were on a personal trip involving an exchange with Taiwanese counterparts.

Eva Air, which said there were 13 members, confirmed that it gave out perks to the staff. 

It noted that it had taken the initiative to upgrade the three passengers to business class and for the whole group to use VIP facilities so they could experience the company’s wide range of services.

The CAD said it was “seriously following up” the incident and stressed that civil servants had to abide by the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and Civil Service Regulations. 

A spokeswoman said if any breaches were found it would take action according to appropriate procedures.

A case could be made that conflict of interest may be involved in offering perks to CAD staff when the department has the power to approve or reject airlines’ applications for lucrative take-off and landing slots at Hong Kong International Airport. However, the CAD spokeswoman took “issue” with this question.

She declined to respond to questions the Post filed on Saturday about whether the staff involved had been suspended.

According to Civil Service Regulations, government staff on duty visits outside Hong Kong usually take economy class, except for certain top-level staff.

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Eva Air said group members were VIPs given an arranged tour of the airlines’ facilities so they could “understand more about the company’s flight safety operations and services”. 

The tour was arranged in coordination with the Republic of China Air Traffic Controllers’ Association.

However, Taiwan’s association of air traffic controllers distanced itself from the matter.

A spokesman told the Post they had received a request from the group asking if a tour could be arranged with the association and Eva Air. It had passed along their request to the airline, but they were not involved in the flight booking.

“There are regular exchanges between air traffic control associations around the world. However we would not arrange for members to fly with any specific airline, nor do we have the power or the right to make any requests with any airlines that would violate our own civil service regulations,” a spokesman said.

Two senior CAD officials were recently accused of misconduct over the department’s new aviation headquarters, according to a government probe.

The investigation revealed that two officials were linked with unauthorised spending on the new building, which included the addition of security and electronic systems costing HK$67.5 million as well as additional space and shower facilities in the civil aviation chief’s office.

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