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Police step in after Hong Kong private jet operator suspended from flying in mainland

Police on the mainland are investigating an allegedly forged flight plan involving a Hong Kong-based private jet operator, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said.

Hongkong Jet was suspended from flying in the mainland for three years by the safety committee of the CAAC, the administration said on Sunday.

It cited the “suspected” violation of flight-plan regulations ­during an “important state-level event” for imposing the suspension, but did not specify what the event was.

However, Hongkong Jet said the flight plan in question had been forwarded to the company by its client, and that it had not knowingly participated in any false declaration in the plan.

The operator, a subsidiary of the mainland’s HNA Group, is the fourth largest among the 15 Hong Kong-based business aviation companies. It operates 28 aircraft.

The CAAC also said on Sunday that the allegedly forged flight plan would be handed over to ­police for follow-up.

A Hongkong Jet spokeswoman said the operator was surprised to learn of the aviation administration’s decision.

“The CAAC has apparently based this preliminary statement on an independent investigation into an alleged irregular letter of invitation, which was forwarded to Hongkong Jet by one of its ­managed aircraft clients,” the spokeswoman said.

“[We] wish to give the assurance that Hongkong Jet has not knowingly participated in this event and is not responsible for any offence.

“It is therefore our intention to clarify the matter and to return to normal operations as soon as possible,” she added.

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Hongkong Jet CEO Denzil White said yesterday the operator was cooperating with the CAAC investigation, which he said was not complete.

“We have not been officially informed of any restriction, but have grounded the aircraft that was involved in the permit incident,” White said in an email.

He said there was no way for the company to verify the flight plan in question.

“The flight to the destination as per the approved permit did not take place, [and] it was only discovered at a later stage that the letter of invitation was irregular. This in itself is not unusual, private jets by the nature of the business frequently change destinations and timings of flights,” he said.

The CAAC has not responded to inquiries on the matter, and its Central and Southern Regional Administration could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Jiang Xufeng, executive director of Jiangsu Shenghao General Aviation, said violations had grown rampant as the aviation ­industry burgeoned.

“The most common type is flying without approval,” Jiang said. “Other problems include pilots having no proper credentials, and aircraft being used for purposes beyond the company’s scope of business.”

In a separate development, the Aviation Safety Committee also blacklisted a senior executive of mainland private plane operator Joy General Aviation on Sunday.

The committee cited the operator’s fatal accident in July, where a seaplane crashed into a bridge in Shanghai’s Jinshan district, killing five people and injuring another five.

The aviation administration’s statement said the crash probe found that Zhou Hua, Joy General Aviation’s chief pilot and a vice-president for operations, was negligent, fabricated information and also did not hold the necessary qualifications.

The safety committee barred Zhou from taking up executive positions in any aviation operator for life.