Cathay closing Canada pilot base, may close others

Airlines like Cathay Pacific had to ground hundreds of planes and slash capacity due to COVID. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Use this oneHong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said Thursday (22 April) that it will close its Canadian pilot base and is considering shutting down pilot bases in Australia and New Zealand. No decisions have been made on the fate of its pilots based in Europe and the United States, the airline said in a statement that noted all passenger fleet pilots on overseas bases had been stood down since May 2020. The decision to close the Canadian base is final, while Australia and New Zealand is a proposal at this stage and will involve a good-faith consultation process with employees, Cathay said.

The news of Cathay’s move was first reported by the South China Morning Post. In Australia and New Zealand, employers must consult with staff before redundancies as part of union agreements but it is rare for publicly announced decisions to be reversed. Qantas Airways and Air New Zealand made similar announcements last year about consultations before proceeding with their planned staff cuts. Cathay had already closed overseas cabin crew bases and shut its regional airline Cathay Dragon to help it conserve cash during the pandemic, resulting in the loss of more than 5,900 jobs. The remaining Hong Kong-based pilots and cabin crew had to agree to permanent pay cuts to keep their jobs. Cathay, which lacks a domestic market at a time when international borders are largely shut, last month reported a record annual loss of HK$21.65 billion (US$2.7 billion).

The South China Morning Post, citing an internal Cathay Pacific memo, said the airline would begin transferring pilots on a voluntary basis to Hong Kong, but added the move could be controversial because existing expatriate crew are working on short-term visas and there is a large pool of unemployed local pilots after the airline shut down its Cathay Dragon unit last year. Deborah McConnochie, Cathay’s general manager for aircrew, said the decision to close the Canada base was “not taken lightly”, according to the Post. She said the airline had also written to Australian and New Zealand pilots to start a consultative process “based on a proposal to close those base areas”.

“We have not made any decisions on bases other than Canada at this time nor any general decision on the future of bases – each base area will be considered on its own merits and any decision to close, maintain or restructure that base area will not have a bearing on any subsequent base reviews,” she said in a statement.

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