China bans Cathay Pacific staff involved in Hong Kong protests from mainland routes.
Civil aviation authorities say ban comes into effect from Saturday.
Airline says it is studying the directive carefully and passenger safety is its top priority.
Beijing has fired its first shot at the Hong Kong business sector since extradition bill protests roiled the city, with mainland civil aviation authorities ordering airline Cathay Pacific to suspend staff who took part in “radical activities” from mainland flights.
In a statement on Friday night, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) told the Hong Kong-based carrier that from Saturday staff who had taken part in “illegal protests”, “violent actions” and “overly radical activities” in the city would not be allowed on services to or from the mainland.
The CAAC also said that from midnight Sunday the airline had to submit identification details of all crews on all services using mainland airspace.
Flights that did not have CAAC-approved crew lists would not be allowed to use Chinese airspace, it said.
In addition, Cathay Pacific was told that by Thursday it had to detail how it was stepping up internal safety controls and improving security.
“The CAAC has issued a severe aviation risk warning after numerous recent incidents exposed safety risks by Hong Kong Cathay Pacific,” the statement said.
“Recently, a Cathay Pacific pilot involved in violent activities was charged with rioting but the person was not suspended from flight duties. There was also leakage of passenger information with malicious intent. These have had an adverse social impact and increased the possibility of aviation risks spreading from Hong Kong to the mainland.”
A Cathay Pacific pilot was among dozens of people charged during police crackdowns on extradition bill protests in recent weeks.
Cathay said earlier that it would not stop staff from taking part in demonstrations, despite a major fall in bookings due to social unrest in Hong Kong.
The airline also came under attack on mainland social media after a staff member leaked information online about the flight details of a group of Hong Kong police officers.
In response to the CAAC’s warning, Cathay Pacific said it was studying the directive very carefully.
“We are treating it seriously and are following up accordingly,” a spokesman for the airline said.
“The safety of our passengers is always the top priority of Cathay Pacific. There is zero tolerance for any inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour that may affect aviation safety. We deal with these incidents very seriously.”
Law Cheung-kwok, an aviation policy expert at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Beijing’s move was “drastic” and could affect Hong Kong’s image.
“I think it is a drastic measure but I understand perfectly the Chinese authority’s concern for security and safety,” Law said.“
This will definitely affect Cathay’s business and the image of Hong Kong as an aviation hub as a whole.”