Cathay Pacific chairman in cockpit during low-flying stunt

March 2nd, 2008 - 3:49 pm ICT by admin  

Hong Kong, March 2 (DPA) The chairman of Cathay Pacific and a senior director were in the cockpit of a new Boeing 777 when it swooped about 10 metres above an airport runway in a stunt that cost the pilot his job, the airline confirmed Sunday. Briton Christopher Pratt, chairman of the Hong Kong-based airline, and director of engineering Christopher Gibbs were in jump seats behind chief pilot Ian Wilkinson when he performed the “fly-by” on the $200 million plane’s maiden flight out of Seattle Jan 31.

Wilkinson, 55, was feted and pictured in the company magazine upon his return to Hong Kong but then sacked after pictures and video of the stunt circulated within the company and on websites, including YouTube.

Pratt and other VIP guests were initially believed to have been in the passenger cabin and unaware how close to the ground they came during the fly-by.

However, Cathay Pacific confirmed Sunday that Pratt and director of engineering Christopher Gibbs were in fact both sitting in jump seats behind the captain in the new Boeing 777-300ER.

Two other first officers were also standing, unharnessed, inside the flight deck to watch as Wilkinson circled after take-off to fly with landing gear raised above the Boeing plane maker’s Seattle airport at more than 500 km an hour.

Neither Pratt nor Gibbs complained about the pilot’s manoeuvre, which was only brought into question when other officials of the Hong Kong-based airline saw pictures circulated online of the stunt five days later.

Wilkinson was fired as 777 fleet captain with Cathay Pacific Feb 21 after an internal disciplinary hearing for performing the unauthorised fly-by. His co-pilot Ray Middleton, 47, was suspended from training duties for six months. Both are Britons.

Investigators discovered Wilkinson had twice before been involved in unauthorised fly-bys over Seattle in brand new 777s - piloting one flight in 2001 and allowing one of his fleet pilots to perform a similar stunt only last year, both times while collecting new planes.

The revelation is an embarrassment for Pratt, a senior director of Cathay’s British parent group Swire and Cathay Pacific’s chairman since 2005. “It makes our airline look like a bunch of cowboys,” one company insider told DPA.

“Not only did they fly very low over the runway in a passenger jet that isn’t made for those kind of stunts but they had two pilots standing up at the back of the flight deck while it all happened.”

However, a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said Pratt was on his maiden flight and had no reason to believe Wilkinson’s manoeuvre had not been officially approved.

“The chairman is not an aviator and he was fully aware that the captain was in full command of the flight,” she said.

“There was no request or suggestion from anyone in Cathay Pacific for the fly-by to take place. The decision was entirely that of the captain in command.”

She called the stunt “inappropriate and regrettable” and said the previous two fly-bys involving Wilkinson only came to light in the course of the investigation into the Jan 31 incident.

The spokeswoman dismissed suggestions that the pilot’s dismissal was sparked by the images on YouTube.

“The YouTube video only confirmed what was already becoming known. The internal investigation was well underway prior to the video appearing online.”

Wilkinson, who was sacked with three months’ pay and retains his full company pension, was on holiday in Thailand, according to the maid at his Hong Kong home.

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