Hong Kong Airport Authority fined HK$120,000 for air bridge collapse that ripped off Cathay Pacific plane door

The magistrate slammed the authority for the complete lack of maintenance of the structural joint since the air bridge began operations in 1999 | Photo: Handout
The Airport Authority was fined HK$120,000 on Thursday after a court found that it could have prevented the unprecedented collapse of an air bridge that ripped off a Cathay Pacific Airways plane door and injured a technician in 2013.

It was also ordered to pay half the prosecution’s legal and investigation costs, which assistant director of public prosecutions Derek Lai Kim-wah estimated at more than HK$2 million.

“In this case we have very dishonest behaviour on the part of [the authority] throughout this trial ... to mislead this court. This is an extraordinary case,” Lai said.

But the maintenance contractor was cleared as magistrate Debbie Ng Chung-yee was convinced the company held a “reasonable and honest belief” that it was not liable for maintaining the broken parts in question.

The case centred on the collapse of a boarding bridge connecting a Cathay Pacific flight set for Nagoya in Japan on April 7, 2013, after its 262 passengers had boarded.

An investigation found that four of the 12 bolts holding a rotunda flange at the bridge column had failed due to metal fatigue, while the remaining ones could not support the load and were pulled out.

The authority had since replaced all 20 air bridges of the same model and was expected to complete the replacement of other types by 2020.

The magistrate at Kwun Tong Court found the authority guilty of failing to ensuring the safety of equipment at its premises, while clearing Jardine Engineering Corporation of the same charge.

She said the authority had failed to ensure maintenance of the safety-critical structural joint since the air bridge was first used in 1999, despite the manufacturer’s instructions for annual inspection and tightening.

“I find this a serious error,” Ng said in closing the 48-day trial, which began in November 2015.

The authority had argued that it selected a renowned manufacturer, Bukaka, contracted maintenance to a competent company and could not have foreseen an accident that had never happened before.

But the magistrate said the authority had failed to identify the importance of maintaining the bolts as it only required its contractor to remove rust and repaint surfaces. Examination of the bolts was never on checklists or included in its tender or contract with Jardine Engineering.

“I find the collapse of the air bridge could have been avoided if [the authority] did not carelessly omit or intentionally exclude the maintenance of the rotunda flange bolts in the programme,” she said.

The contractor, though acquitted, also came under fire for failing to notify the authority of the significant wear and tear to parts, which had increased the load on the bolts.

Normally, magistrates only grant costs to the prosecution of up to HK$30,000, but Ng agreed with Lai that an exception could made given the circumstances.

The authority, which had no prior convictions, said through a spokesman that it would study the judgment to decide the way forward.

Read the original article on the South China Morning Post.