Who Is Emptying Cathay Pacific’s Oxygen Bottles?

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific has had a rough several weeks, following everything that’s going on in Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific’s CEO suddenly resigned, and staff have been warned not to participate in the “illegal protests,” or they could be terminated. Suffice to say morale at the company is low.

However, could frustration be causing someone to try to sabotage Cathay Pacific’s operations?

Cathay Pacific’s Empty Oxygen Bottles

As reported by Danny Lee at SCMP, Cathay Pacific and the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department are now investigating something that has allegedly happened at the airline three times recently. Specifically, oxygen bottles on three different flights have now been tampered with, and were either partially or completely empty.

To start, on both August 17 and August 18, Cathay Pacific 777s flying from Hong Kong to Toronto landed with oxygen bottles that had been tampered with. Each flight had 22 oxygen bottles, and in total 13 bottles had been tampered with, between the two flights.

Then this past Friday a third incident occurred. Prior to a Cathay Dragon flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, an oxygen bottle was discovered to be empty. During the inspection the previous night all bottles were full, which makes the airline wonder what is going on.

What’s The Motive?

It is important to clarify that in all of these instances we’re talking about oxygen bottles that are used in the event of an emergency, and not the plane’s primary oxygen system.

In other words, the odds of this actually being an issue are very small, since depleted oxygen tanks are only an issue in the case of an emergency. These are the tanks that the crew would use in an emergency, and not even the supply for the oxygen masks for passengers in the event of a depressurization.

I also find it interesting that in all cases only a minority of the tanks had been tampered with.

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t look like anyone is actually trying to cause great harm, since it’s highly unlikely they’d get to the point where this becomes the difference between life and death.

Rather it seems that someone is trying to send a message — and a very subtle one at that — about their frustration.

Something I’m not aware of, but would be curious to hear from experts on, is whether this is even definitely sabotage. In other words, what are the chances that these just malfunctioned for whatever reason, and given the situation at Cathay Pacific, people are just assuming it’s worse than it is? Could it be that in the third case they just hadn’t done a proper inspection the night before, and that’s what triggered all of this?

I’ll be curious to see if there are more instances of this, or if they discover who is behind this…

  1. Checking the gauge on each bottle to make sure the needle is in the green range is part of a flight attendant’s pre-flight check. (If the bottle is empty the needle will be in the red range.)
    So if the bottles were full on departure, it’s highly unlikely they lost oxygen somehow in flight. During my 30 years as a flight attendant I can scarcely ever remember a time when I checked the bottles in my zone and found one that wasn’t ‘in the green’. If a bottle is used in flight it must be written-up in the log for maintenance at the next station. My guess is that someone is secretly bleeding bottles when no other crewmembers can see them… STUPID.

  2. First, shame on you for “reporting” this and making it so visible. This is not news, this is not anything that you need to inform the world about. You directly contribute to motivating some morons who will inevitably decide that it would be fun to mess with oxygen tanks on commercial aircraft. As this sabotage starts to spread, you – personally – will be to blame. You do this just to get clicks and line your own pockets. Shame on you.

    Second, it is so painfully obvious that you do not know a damn thing about how modern aircraft work. Exhibit A:

    “It is important to clarify that in all of these instances we’re talking about oxygen bottles that are used in the event of an emergency, and not the plane’s primary oxygen tanks.”

    OK, Einstein. Go ahead and “clarify”. What exactly do you think are “the plane’s primary oxygen tanks”? You think there’s some giant reservoir in the plane’s wings that are filled with oxygen so everyone can breathe?”

    Mister Expert…

  3. Oxygen level is something that is checked every single flight. It is simply impossible for 13 out of 22 serviceable oxygen bottles to drop into the red independently over the course of a flight. Someone (or more than one person) is bleeding the oxygen out intentionally. Whatever the motivation for that, it is something that really shouldn’t be happening. And it raises the questions of what else may be tampered with.

    Right now, the unaddressed safety issues surrounding Cathay Pacific are significant enough that the certifying authority may need to take a serious look at suspending their AOC or placing restrictions on their operations temporarily until resolved.

  4. To be honest, very disappointed to see your views on these multiple events happening in HK and CX. As frequent flyer without business acumen and industry insights are understandable but could be better to ask critical questions:
    1. When a public company is losing billions $$$ due to whatever reasons, who should be responsible for that? Don’t tell me shareholders will pay the bill.
    2. Will you fly any airlines/flights that has potential, planned, significant and/or declared risks? CX’s multiple cases are NOT just coincidence. I’m stop flying CX, good luck to whoever stick to it.

  5. Ben can you please share this with the brave folks of Hong Kong who are fighting in the streets for democracy, and can you also please share it with the many international journalists covering the uprising. It would be interesting to see what insights they have on this. Many of them are active on Twitter and relatively easy to find there.

  6. @ Phil Robinson

    Shame on you for not understanding that this site is not a “hard news” site and Ben is clearly not a reporter, but a blogger.

    Also, the last I checked with the legal systems in most countries (of which I am a serving member) individuals are responsible for their direct illegal actions, not bloggers who write about topics you find frightening. Ben hasn’t encouraged anyone to commit any illegal acts, but simply provided an anecdote which could be considered safety information for any nervous fliers who may appreciate this and choose not to fly Cathay for the time being.

    Furthermore, as stated this isn’t an issue which has a high statistical chance of causing permanent harm therefore it is absolutely appropriate to bring it to light. Do you get angry when local papers warn you about pranksters stealing street signs or moving construction signs?

    Finally, I think it is you who do not understand aircraft systems since you didn’t bother to correct Ben but merely tried to shame him. Passenger oxygen systems are usually chemical generators that feed the masks at every seat, and thus wouldn’t be affected by tampering with the walk-around tanks. Some planes also feed oxygen from tanks in the cargo bays, and these would be considered “primary oxygen tanks” as Ben alluded to.

    Hopefully you are just lonely and trolling for attention and not so ill-informed about how the world and information works. Happy flying!

  7. @The Grim Corsair Thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking! I thoroughly enjoy this blog and the information that’s provided. I’m guessing quite a lot of people agree.

    @Phil Robinson and any other person that wants to personally shame bloggers like Lucky…maybe stop reading the blog if you think it’s so terrible?

    Why do we find it acceptable to publicly shame people while hiding behind a keyboard? I appreciate the hard work and research that goes into this blog. I may not completely agree with everything Lucky says, but I can appreciate the courage and hard work it took to post it here.

    @Lucky Please keep writing about all things related to commercial aviation. Don’t let the haters get you down, you’re a very talented and appreciated blogger. Keep up the good work!

  8. It’s probably part of the pre flight check…but given that Cathay is now a company that puts striking fear into staff as a priority of “compliance”, it’s possible that the staff have more on their minds than usual.
    Plus…the more they head towards being a Chinese airline, the more they’re likely to behave like one in all aspects.

  9. People complained about Debit’s lame jokes, but people like Phil Robinson are x10 worse because he’s being serious. My goodness. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how Lucky could ever receive the blame for this. Wow, just wow.

  10. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are all done by some pro-democracy staff at Cathay:

    After Cathay Pacific boards fired the union leader staff who attended the pro-democracy protests a few days ago, a Facebook page of Cathay Dragon staff called “KA Secrets” posted something in Cantonese that basically translated into “You fire us, we’ll make you die with us. We will dawdle and damage the planes, believe it or not.”

    Whether this is the case or not, I would personally avoid Cathay. I will not trust someone losing their cool with my safety. Bringing politics and personal feeling into work is simply unprofessional.

  11. Ben, thanks for such a humorous post. Well, not the post but allowing people to rant in the comment section. I found it quite humorous. Not only did I find your post interesting but it is in line with the general theme of this blog. Keep up the good work.

  12. All airline carry portable oxygen for use in the case of a passenger health emergency. I am assuming that this issue is related to personal oxygen rather than the supply for the overhead oxygen masks.

    Either way it is a very serious problem. If I was to suffer a heart attack or some other medical event on a flight that required the use of oxygen to save my life it would be very serious and life threatening issue! So this should not be downplayed.

    Will be flying through Hong Kong on Cathay in a week and have no plans to change my flights unless Hong Kong airport is shut down. I hope that the flight crew maintain their vigilance and that the perpetrators are found and severely punished.

  13. O2 tanks are not only used for crew, but also used during medicals onboard. At the airline I work for, tanks are not allowed to drop below a certain pressure number if used in a medical circumstance (even though we have plenty of spares). All tanks are served as a backup for a decompression. The person who did this could’ve had a motive of canceling the return flight to hurt Cathay financially, thinking there wouldn’t be tank replacements out of base. However, any contracted maintenance team outside of a base should be able to refill the tanks to an acceptable level.

  14. It is fascinating to see how far the PRC tentacles reach, watching and commenting everywhere. As the US declines and China rises, god help us all.

  15. The so-called ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrators of Hong Kong are just turning into terrorists who are willing to harm innocent people to get sympathy from the rest of the democratic world.

    There is no doubt in my mind these terrorists have been sabotaging the subways, buses and transportation in Hong Kong to disrupt the lifeline of the community and bring down the economy so they can claim victory.

    Can you imagine any groups of people who would even attempt to do these things in the U.S. FBI will come down on them within hours!

  16. Is it just me or do a lot of people give Ben a lot of guff for very silly things?

    I love this blog, its gotten me really interested in the points game, not to mention envious of the travel he’s done… but ultimately, he’s just a guy who spends a lot of time up in the air.

    I wish people would stop dumping on him and enjoy the read!

    Hope your trip is GREAT Ben!

  17. No matter how minor you are trying to make this sort of actions look, the nature of it should be absolutely clear and disturbing: some people are prioritizing their political judgement over flight safety and professional conudct. How bad that is should be self-evident.

  18. Who Is Emptying Cathay Pacific’s flight crews? (The Communist Party and the Peoples Liberation Army.)

    I worry crew members (democracy supporters) might start disappearing during flights; especially 35k feet over the South China Sea.

  19. @[email protected]

    Did you just solve the mystery of MH370?????

    Is it a coincidence that MH370 was flying from KUL to PEK!!!!!

    Or is it just a case those dumb kids wanting some last minute chaos to the innocent public before returning to school abroad. What’s the excuse this time, someone lost another eye in a Chinese made oxygen mask?

  20. Now, just a wild conspiracy theory of mine. Given the current situation in HK, wouldn’t it be likely that the Chinese gov’t did this so they can say “look at these uncivil demonstrators, they would even endanger plane full of lives!” B/c most people won’t know how the oxygen tanks in plane actually works, and the headlines with “third plane with oxygen tanks tampered” just sound horrible.

  21. Had always been a loyal passenger of Cathay Pacific airline and Cathy Dragon for years due to their service and safety record. I think the important point is that these oxygen tanks are there for a reason regardless of who will be using it. It may not be the passenger who will be using them, but in the event of an emergency they are there to save a life or many lives. So, to jeopardize anyone’s safety in an event of emergency is not acceptable and should be punishable according to law. It doesn’t matter what your political views are, but to put other people in harms way to justify your view or your agenda is selfish and irresponsible. I was a first hand witness of 911, so this really bothers me. If you feel that Cathay is not a company you like to work with then quit your job. But if you don’t and you put on that uniform to go to work, then you are on company pay and you will need to do your job as a professional who will put passenger and everyone’s safety as your priority. Regardless of who did it or what happen Cathy needs to figure out how to handle this situation properly and quickly before people stop flying with them. Because at this point, I am really considering a different airline for my trip coming up.

  22. There is a real possibility that this is due to a lack of preventive maintenance on the oxygen bottles themselves. The gaskets that most oxygen regulators use are commonly made of (or partly made of) rubber. That will deteriorate over time. When you lose your seal you will lose your tank pressure. It could also be a training issue. If someone is checking the bottle and opens the main valve without properly closing it again (or with a loose gasket seal present) you would also lose your pressure. While it’s not a great situation, it’s also not uncommon. It happens frequently in the healthcare transport (ambulance, helicopter, etc) arena.

  23. Ben is trying to downplay a criminal act, and expressing his political view in an otheriwise excellent avation blog, casuing debate.
    probably becauze the blogs in the last fews are nothing but mediocre.

  24. This is hugely worrying, and a very serious problem for Cathay.

    Ben, you have pointed out on this blog many times that today’s excellent aviation safety record comes from strict adherence to protocols and processes designed to eliminate risk, no matter how small that risk may be.

    If this is shown to be crew action then, regardless of their “intention” to cause harm, and regardless of which side of the Hong Kong political divide they come from, some crew at Cathay feel comfortable sabotaging basic safety systems on board their aircraft.

    When the Chinese government called into question Cathay’s safety a few weeks back (as they forced out Hogg) I assumed it was merely hyperbole. This suggests that in fact there is a severe problem at the airline that requires immediate intervention by the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department.

    I agree with @Sean M – this is not a trivial matter at all.

  25. Downplay a criminal act, and expressing misleading political view without knowing what exactly is happening. This blog really disgusts me now. Will be my last visit here. Switch to the points guy or someone else. Good luck with your ride with Cathay.

  26. However small the risk associated with tampering with the bottles , if it transpires that this is being done in support of/at the behest of the protest movement, then it’s a very serious overstep. They have no need to engage in vandalism; public sympathy is firmly on their side.
    I don’t understand why some commenters are getting their knickers in a twist over this story/post.

  27. “Criminal act…” Apparently some commentors know every bit behind this mystery already. As pointed out: this could also be a rubber failing/something else nothing to do with the demonstrations. Stop bullying Ben and stop these stupid conspiracy theories.

  28. @JayLTX – exactly a POSSIBILITY that crossed my mind.
    @Steve – thank you for setting out how competence could explain this too.
    All those who assumed it is by Democracy Protestors – that could also be true.

    Just let’s not jump to conclusions.

  29. I’m surprised how there are only a very few folks who are pointing out that this could well be due to Chinese government ‘plants’ to discredit the pro-democracy movement. How easy it would be for the airline to bow once again to their Beijing masters, and fire a few more crew members who are not kowtowing to the party line.
    It seems pretty clear to me that many of these posts are from pro-Beijing stooges who are further fuelling the fires. Taking actions that basically have zero risk would carry a similar (near-zero) risk to the perpetrators, almost certainly Beijing- backed.
    Thanks, Ben, for posting this. And shame on the pro-tyranny posters.

  30. @MickL you are taking your conspiracy theories too far. Imagine the same happening in your country wherever you come from (imagine three incidents like this right after Ferguson or Trump election). Easy for you to say these things now. We in the West are losing credibility because of the double standards that you hold (assuming you are from the West). Also shame on Lucky for discounting what could prove to be criminal acts.

  31. This is very serious but I’d still fly Cathay.

    I’m in Hong Kong now. Saturday the running protests moved from the island to Kowloon into TST with police arresting anyone exiting certain stations.
    Nathan Road traffic was sealed off by police buses for hours as we walked back to the hotel. The police seemed truly scared when I briefly talked to them, trying to pick out the demonstrators from the rest of the crowd in TST.

    That being said, life is going on as normal. It’s just nobody from China is visiting. It’s rather hard to consider the situation as out of control when people protest only on weekends.

  32. 13 of 22 oxygen bottles being out across two flights, and an empty bottle on a third? That sounds an awful lot like someone has tampered with the bottles. As others have said, this may be someone(s) simply trying to cause disruption in flights given the current operational measures in place at HKG to keep the airport running. Is it possible this is a deferred maintenance issue? Sure. Timing being what it is, however, it just seems unlikely IMO.

    For me, the O2 bottles themselves are less of a concern, its the fact they have been tampered with in the first place. If the bottles have been tampered with, what ELSE has been tampered with?

  33. @Phil Robinson
    1) Why Did you waste energy typing this
    2) Clearly it’s YOU who doesn’t know a Damn about airplanes because the oxygen tanks sabotaged with are the ones that crew carry while using them so they can get people to put on their masks
    3) Ben isn’t promoting people sabotaging oxygen tanks for fun, I could just say that you promote people talking nonsense on an innocent bloggers post
    4) if you don’t appreciate the effort put into this post you suck, seriously
    5) Einstein he DID say that the tanks sabotaged were ones used in emergencies, get your eyes tested.
    6) Are you a flat earthed because I think so

  34. OMG this is scary. I certainly do not want to be flown by a disgruntled aircrew who might force the plane to disapper over the Ocean like MH370 or hijack it to crash into a skyscraper like Shanghai Tower or the International Commerce Centre like 9/11

  35. @Ben there is a bit mistake in your post. the oxygen tanks were emptied while they are on the ground as pointed out in the SCMP post. A lot of the comments above were worrying about the bottles being emptied while in flight, which was not the case…
    “When the Airbus A330 arrived from Bali, its oxygen bottles were full
    By the time it was preparing for take-off to Kuala Lumpur the next morning, one of its canisters had been discharged.”
    “Cathay Pacific confirms that a number of portable oxygen bottles stored on board two of its aircraft were found to be discharged or partially discharged while the aircraft were on the ground prior to departure in Toronto”

  36. Seems to me that a employee may be taking the bottles using them during the protest when tear gas is being used and is replacing with the emptys not sure if it possible but make more sense the. Just emptying bottles

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