Pilots at FedEx Corporation are urging the express carrier to suspend flight operations in Hong Kong over concerns about requirements that airline crews submit to mandatory hospital quarantines under what they describe as dangerous conditions.
The FedEx unit of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said late Tuesday that three pilots who tested positive for COVID-19, but were asymptomatic, were forced by Hong Kong authorities to spend up to 10 days in government-selected hospital facilities with as many as five patients to a room with one shared bathroom. Pilots or family members found to have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual are placed in a government quarantine facility for up to 14 days with sparse provisions, the bargaining unit said.
Union leaders say the conditions fall below the standard of care in the U.S. and are calling on the airline to suspend operations because pilots, including Hong Kong-based crews, are at risk.
"Not only do these situations pose unacceptable risks to our pilots' safety and well-being, but they also create added stress and distraction for flight operations,"
said Capt. Dave Chase, executive council chairman of the FedEx ALPA Master Executive Council, in a statement. "While the COVID-19 global pandemic rages on, FedEx pilots continue to provide essential services, operating in extremely challenging and ever-changing environments and constantly adapting to new government mandates and restrictions around the globe."
Hong Kong instituted the new health safety measures to contain another wave of COVID-19 cases. The city has experienced triple-digit increases in infections every day since July 22, according to the South China Morning Post. New measures that went into effect Wednesday require aircrews to take a virus test before they fly and have proof of a negative test.
"The safety and well-being of our team members continues to be our top priority. The situation in Hong Kong is dynamic as the Hong Kong government adapts its policies to prevent a resurgence of the virus there," FedEx said in a statement provided to FreightWaves. "We are fully engaged with government authorities to support our crew members in situations requiring medical treatment or self-isolation in Hong Kong. Our operations in Asia Pacific are vital to our global network, and we are proud of the way our entire FedEx team has continued to operate through difficult circumstances to keep the global supply chain moving around the world."
Earlier this month, United Airlines Holdings Inc and American Airlines Group Inc temporarily suspended operations in Hong Kong, including cargo-only flights, because of invasive tests for COVID-19 that upset pilots and flight attendants, and left open the possibility of flight disruptions if a positive test forced entire crews to quarantine. United is now making stops in Tokyo and Guam to change crews and bypass the Hong Kong tests.
Airlines have faced similar challenges in mainland China, with some carriers using Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo has hubs so they don't have to change crews at Chinese airports.
Passenger airlines and all-cargo operators for months have urged governments to tread carefully with regard to travel and health screening restrictions that limit the ability to reopen economies or quickly deliver urgent COVID-related supplies.