By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
- Government terminates operation contract, calls the carrier “irresponsible, uncooperative”
- Legal actions to recover MOP200 million loan
- Assistance to affected passengers guaranteed
The SAR government decided yesterday to immediately terminate Viva Macau’s operation contract due to the increasing number of affected passengers and the carrier’s “poor attitude” since the problem arose last Friday. The move means that the budget airline is no longer a public air transport operating entity or authorised to sell tickets by any means.
Viva Macau, which is unable to settle its fuel bills and to buy fuels, had 10 flights either cancelled or delayed over the past three days, leaving hundreds of Macau residents, transit passengers and tourists stranded at the Macau International Airport.
The Tourism Crisis Management Office (GGCT) held a press conference yesterday afternoon, where president of the Civil Aviation Authority (AACM), Chan Weng Hong, announced that the SAR government had formally requested Air Macau to terminate Viva Macau’s sub franchise contract with immediate effect in order to “protect the public interest, after having thoroughly assessed the influences to the sustainable development of Macau’s tourism industry and sought legal advice.
“The SAR government is highly concerned about the negative impact the Viva Macau incident has brought to passengers and society. Since last Friday when the company suspended the flights because of outstanding fuel debts, we’ve been contacting the company and urging it to carry out its commercial liability,” the AACM chief told reporters.
“But Viva Macau didn’t cooperate with us and even didn’t give the government necessary information including the passenger name lists, which slowed down our progress in providing assistance to those being affected,” he added.
The Macau government, according to Chan Weng Hong, deemed that Viva Macau was not sincere at all to solve the problems. He called the company “uncooperative”, “irresponsible” and “didn’t show up to provide assistance or details”.
The company shareholders have been informed about the government’s action, but Chan Weng Hong said they did not give any response. Viva Macau could not be reached for comments yesterday.
In addition, Chan Weng Hong said legal actions will be taken regarding the MOP200 million loan granted to the low-cost carrier between 2008 to 2009. No further details were given on this matter.
On the other hand, Viva Macau’s online booking site was still in operation last Friday and Saturday despite the government was aware of the carrier’s financial conditions.
In the Saturday GGCT press conference Chan Weng Hong said AACM decided whether or not to take back the carrier’s aviation license based on the maintenance, fire safety, security and quality issues.
“If the company’s technical operation got influenced due to management problems which made it fail to meet the licensing requirements, the government will then cancel its license,” he said. “The AACM will consider a new approach if the financial status causes impact to the safety issue.”
The AACM president also said at that time that people should “assess the risks on their own” before deciding whether or not to purchase the flight tickets.
Director of the Government Information Bureau (GCS) Chan Chi Peng also said on Saturday that it was “impossible” for the government to order a private enterprise to close down, adding the business operation was monitored by the Commercial Code.
Chan Chi Peng stressed that the normal operation was unable to maintain because of the airline company’s financial condition, but the safety standards had not been affected.
Executive president of the Consumer Council (CC), Wong Hon Neng, said the incident is a “complete consumption dispute over an commercial activity”.
He said all affected passengers can contact the two CC offices on (853) 89889315 or the CC staff at the MGTO booth at the airport to file a complaint. Six complaints related to Viva Macau were received as of Friday night.
Since it is believed that the amount involved in each case should not be substantial, Wong said passengers could try to claim their money back in the Minor Civil Court (or commonly known as the Small Claims Court) which handles cases involving MOP50,000 or below.
Hundreds called hotline
According to João Antunes, the GGCT coordinator and director of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO), said 349 calls for inquiries or assistance were received as of 6pm yesterday since the hotline (853) 28333088 began to operate.
The GGCT on Saturday announced that the SAR government will fund the purchase of return tickets for Macau residents stranded aboard and also fund tourists to return to their origin point of departure. As for tours which purchased Viva Macau tickets through local travel agencies, the government will coordinate with the agencies for arrangements.
Travellers who hold Viva Macau tickets but did not yet depart Macau will be given special prices to fly to their destinations on other carriers.
As of yesterday afternoon, the GGCT had arranged 39 Macau residents to fly back from the Tokyo Narita International Airport.
At the same time, 25 stranded tourists from Sydney and 31 from Hanoi have been arranged to return home on alternative flights and some of them will fly from Hong Kong.
Antunes also said that the MGTO booth at the Macau International Airport received 206 registration forms (some have details of more than one person) from affected passengers in a bid to get necessary assistance.
While tourists have been arranged to stay at hotels, the GGCT is also providing meals to those stranded at the airport.
Antunes reiterated that the SAR government will continue to help affected local residents to come back to Macau and also arrange tourists to return home.
He said that the GGCT could not determine the exact figures of how many people in total are involved in this incident, since Viva Macau never presented to the government the final passenger lists.
In addition, transit passengers who got stranded will automatically have their visas to stay in Macau extended immediately. Antunes said Chinese passport holders will have a 15-day extension whilst other passport holders will have 30 days.
On the other hand, the AACM president said Viva Macau is still a registered company and therefore it will still be allowed to reapply for the license if its financial conditions are restored.
“Viva Macau still has business opportunities in Macau as long as it meets the requirements,” he added.
In regard to the carrier’s employees, Chan Weng Hong said it needs to be handled according to the Labour Law.
He also said that no one had to shoulder any legal liabilities by far unless the carrier is found to have broken the law.
Chan Chi Peng explained that “a company cannot be punished because it has no money, it’s not a crime”.
“Macau’s best international airline”
On March 6, a Viva Macau flight with a busted generator was forced to turn back to Sydney after around an hour of flight. Passengers got stranded at the Sydney airport for four hours and complained that no food or accommodation was provided. They only flew to Macau in the next morning.
The airline company had previously announced that starting March 28 its Sydney route would be suspended but at the same time its Melbourne service would be increased.
A new look on the carrier’s website was just launched on March 25 which was celebrated by “crazy fare sale”.
CEO Reg Macdonald described Viva Macau as “Macau’s best international airline” in the press statement.
Viva Macau, formally known as WOO!Macau, launched its maiden flight on December 16, 2006 after obtaining the sub franchise from Air Macau in May of the same year.
Its parent company was Macau Eagle Aviation Services Ltd. and chairman was Ngan In Leng, a prominent businessman in Macau.