(Dec 3): Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd plans to hire hundreds of pilots next year amid reports of a rising number of resignations as Hong Kong’s Covid-19 policies severely constrain manpower and weigh on morale at the airline.
“We plan to employ several hundred pilots in the coming year, many of whom have already expressed an interest in being part of the Cathay brand,” a spokesperson for the airline said in a statement on Friday (Dec 3) without providing details of the current headcount.
Hong Kong’s requirement for most inbound travellers to quarantine for as long as 21 days has forced Cathay into a so-called closed-loop system whereby pilots and the crew have to spend weeks working and self-isolating away from home. The airline has cut flights this month due to operational and travel restrictions.
“These rules and the length of time they have been in force are placing a burden on our aircrew,” the spokesperson said. “The environment has been challenging for everyone.”
Matters came to a head in mid-November, when three Cathay pilots tested positive for Covid-19 after a lay-over in Frankfurt, the airline’s European cargo hub. Authorities ordered all aircrew who stopped in Frankfurt since the start of the month into a government quarantine facility for 21 days. Cathay fired the trio for a “serious breach”.
“The recent incident in Frankfurt has affected current sentiment. However, we fully expect to be a competitive employer of both local and international talent in the long term,” the spokesperson said, adding that the carrier will restart its cadet pilot programme early next year.
More than 200 Cathay pilots and crew were sent to the quarantine camp in Penny’s Bay, according to the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association. In a Nov 17 letter, the association urged pilots to call in sick rather than risk flying. Pilots, many of whom are expatriates, have also reported being spat on and abused by locals concerned that airline workers may spread the virus, the union said.
Cathay’s woes highlight the tension between the local business community and the government over travel as Hong Kong sticks to its Covid-zero policy and a primary goal of reopening the border with China.
Cathay shares rose in Hong Kong for the first time in nearly three weeks on Friday, adding 2.1% to trade at HK$6.30 (about RM3.42) as of 3.06pm local time. They had fallen almost 20% over the past 12 months.