Cathay Pacific is considering reopening and expanding overseas pilots bases to skirt tough pandemic measures and quarantine rules in its home hub of Hong Kong that are being blamed for an exodus of pilots in recent weeks.
The airline has confirmed plans to hire several hundred pilots next year despite the fact the airline is only operating a tiny fraction of its pre-pandemic schedule. Cathay Pacific’s staffing woes have been compounded by Hong Kong’s reluctance to offer working visas to foreign expat pilots.
Cathay could go on a hiring spree for local pilots but this wouldn’t resolve the quarantine dilemma that has plagued the airline’s operations for much of the year. The emergence of the Omicron variant has hardened the attitude of the authorities still further and even more restrictions on flight crew are expected to be announced in the near future.
A rash of resignations followed shortly after around 200 Cathay Pacific pilots, flight attendants and their families were thrown into the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp last month. More crew are refusing to volunteer for quarantine-inducing flights or failing to turn up for rostered duties because of the impact the work is having on their mental health.
Pilots and cabin crew volunteer to work in a ‘closed loop’ system in which they remain locked in a quarantine hotel for 21-days at a time part from when they are working on a flight. At the end of the 21-day period, they must then endure a further two weeks in quarantine.
The ‘closed loop’ system is used extensively throughout China for high-risk workers who may be exposed to COVID-19.
“These rules and the length of time they have been in force are placing a burden on our aircrew,” a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific recently admitted. “The environment has been challenging for everyone.”
Only a few months ago, Cathay announced plans to close its London crew base and was set to scrap its U.S. bases as well. Those closures could now be reversed as the airline develops a long-term and sustainable plan to keep flying amidst Hong Kong’s ongoing pandemic restrictions.
Operating multiple overseas crew bases can be a significant financial burden but in the present environment, the operation would be cheaper and potentially more reliable than navigating Hong Kong’s constantly changing quarantine rules.
Over the last few years, Cathay Pacific also closed its overseas flight attendant bases and at present, the airline doesn’t plan to bring any of these back online.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.