After a massive corporate restructuring of Cathay Pacific in late 2021, the airline seems to have found its direction in reshaping its pilot workforce amid the pandemic. Cathay Pacific, the flag carrier of Hong Kong, has found its way of reshaping its pilots’ constitution despite being hit hard by the tightening border restrictions imposed by the Hong Kong Government and the untimely introduction of a new competitor – Greater Bay Airlines. See what the airline has been doing to strive in the unprecedented plight of Hong Kong Aviation.
Back in October 2021, Cathay Pacific had introduced a corporate restructuring plan to ensure the survival of the company with Hong Kong’s aviation sector almost coming to a complete halt. The plan incorporated new conditions of services to existing pilots and cabin crew as well as waves of layoff. Cathay has announced that over 98% of their pilots agreed upon the new conditions of services out of 2653 existing flight crew.
The Company had also had frequent meetings with the local pilot association – Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) to discuss feedback with representatives and to provide further information to pilots. The company has admitted the severity of the impacts the pandemic has on the passenger demand but will remain optimistic with “utmost confidence” on the long-term prospect of Hong Kong as an aviation hub.
Phasing Out Veteran Pilots
Despite Cathay’s commendation for the high percentage of acceptance to the new conditions of services, the restructuring had sparked discussions among locals and confreres that it is part of the company’s attempt to phase out senior flight crew, especially expatriates. An interview with Hong Kong Free Press earlier in 2021 highlighted senior pilots were offered two versions of the updated contract with differing retirement ages.
In summary, the original contract with a retirement age of 55, pays more benefits in the forms of travel bonuses and housing allowance whilst the alternative contract with the retirement age of 65, will have the basic salary reduced by 35% with almost halved peripheral benefits. The airline’s estimation suggests about 13% of the pilots are on the contract with 55 as their retirement age with most stating they want to continue to work beyond the age of 55.
Two New Zealand-based pilots sued the company for age discrimination and it was ruled in favour of the pilots by the New Zealand Supreme Court, regardless of the contractual agreement. Hong Kong currently does not recognise age discrimination as one of the four anti-discrimination ordinances outlined by the Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong.
Resuming Cadet Training
Cathay’s Cadet Pilot Programme has been the main gateway for locals to enter the industry for more than 20 years and was put on a halt due to the pandemic. Earlier in February, Cathay announced that the programme has already resumed and will collaborate with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and flight schools in the U.S. in the future as opposed to the tradition of having the initial training done in Adelaide, Australia. Around 140 cadets who have completed their training before the pandemic with pending employment contracts will also be put into line, suggested by Chief Hughes- Chief Operations and Services Delivery Officer.
Rehiring Pilots from Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair)
Pilots from long-time rival Dragonair and later subsidiary Cathay Dragon were left to their own devices after the demise of their company as part of Cathay’s restructuring plan back in 2020. 550 pilots were left jobless in the middle of COVID-19 all with valid licenses and medicals required to fly based in Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific announced they will be hiring pilots dismissed by Cathay Dragon. Over 140 pilots from Cathay Dragon will be “rehired” and be offered contracts with the new conditions of services. This move is seen as a win-win situation for Cathay and the pilots as reduced training and administrative process for locally qualified crew will alleviate the financial burden, boost morale, and improve the company’s public image as a flag carrier.
With the 5th wave of the pandemic hitting Hong Kong hard, Chairman of Cathay Pacific – Patrick Healy, promised employees that there will be no cutbacks, no unpaid leaves, and no layoffs this year. From external factors such as the prolonged border control and the rise of a fledgling competitor, Greater Bay Airlines, joining the game to latent internal human resources concerns brooded by the change in pilot composition.