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Hong Kong Express Airways fires CEO Cowen

Dismissal follows budget airline's flight cancellations during peak season

HK Express chief executive Andrew Cowen, seen here at Hong Kong Airport on Sept. 5, was fired on Oct. 4.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Shaken by embarrassing flight cancellations during a peak travel season, Hong Kong Express Airways, a discount carrier based in the territory, on Wednesday fired CEO Andrew Cowen.

The company abruptly canceled 18 flights on three routes to Osaka and Nagoya, in Japan, and Seoul that were scheduled for the Chinese National Day holidays from Oct. 1 to Oct. 8. The cancellations affected some 2,000 passengers.

Zhong Guosong, vice chairman of sister company Hong Kong Airlines, replaced Cowen the same day. Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which owns both companies, is believed to be behind the personnel change.

Hong Kong Express Airways saw a number of its safety instructors depart in August. This left many pilots and cabin attendants unable to renew mandatory qualifications for boarding flights, making it difficult for the airline to find the crews needed to operate the peak-season flights.

The problems have been attributed to growing pains from the airline's rapid expansion.

Hong Kong Express Airways said it had already taken measures to address the situation following the cancellations, including arranging alternate flights and refunding fares to passengers with reservations. Analysts said, however, the corrective measures may not be enough to prevent damage to the company's reputation.

Hong Kong Express Airways is the only discount airline based at Hong Kong International Airport. The company has aggressively expanded to destinations in Japan and Southeast Asia, and has been popular up to now, with some flights more than 90% full.

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