Cathay Pacific union calls for inquiry over flight cancellations amid pilot shortages

Union says company's moves 'were a cynical and ill judged attempt to make the most of a crisis to reduce staff costs permanently'

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Cathay Pacific
(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Singapore SA2024The union representing Cathay Pacific aircrews has issued a call for a government inquiry into recent pilot shortages that have caused the airline to cancel flights. The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association said it “has been warning of potential problems for months” and laid the blame for Cathay’s problems squarely on the airline’s management.

“Any such review must examine the root of Cathay’s current problems, which lie in the decisions made by management in 2020,” the union said. “At that time the Cathay group and its staff associations were in talks centred around unpaid leave, furloughs, reduced wages and other measures which would have enabled the airline to retain the key staff necessary for a strong post-pandemic recovery. Such measures are standard in the industry following long experience, have been successful for the airline in previous crises, and were taken by every other major airline with the result that around the world our competitors are all already fully recovered.

“Instead the airline’s leaders made a very different choice, making deep and permanent reductions to the pay of frontline staff, fired pilots and flight attendants and closed their mainland oriented regional carrier, Cathay Dragon. Predictably this has turned out to be disastrous for Hong Kong’s aviation skills base, the firing of 1,000 experienced pilots was followed in the next year or so by the resignations of a further 1,000 pilots out of a total workforce of around 4,000,” the union said.

The union’s calls comes after Hong Kong Transport Secretary Lam Sai-hung expressed great concern at Cathay’s senior executives over the flight cancellations in a Facebook post Monday.

The union added that Cathay’s moves were “not required to save the company and it seems highly unlikely that the HK Government had the decimation of Hong Kong aviation in mind when it stepped in with a taxpayer funded bailout to support the company.

“Rather,” the union added, the company’s moves “were a cynical and ill judged attempt to make the most of a crisis to reduce staff costs permanently, taking advantage of employees who were already fearful of their health and livelihoods in the middle of a pandemic and had nowhere else to go at that time. It should have been obvious that staff would eventually have options once market conditions had normalised. Ultimately, these measures have led to cancellations and chronic staff shortages, which undermine Hong Kong’s position as a global hub.”

The union said pilots were continuing to resign because of Cathay’s management decisions, saying “decisive action is now required” to retain and rehire pilots. “Hong Kong aviation will continue to suffer until there is an acknowledgement of these mistakes and a change in leadership, particularly among those responsible for overseeing flight operations,” the union said.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.

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