Cathay Pacific needs 3 more years to recover pre-pandemic capacity, says Hong Kong Aircrew Officers’ Association

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26th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, the Hong Kong-based airline, will require a minimum of three additional years to fully restore its pre-pandemic capacity, according to the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers’ Association (HKAOA). The association highlights the severe shortage of experienced pilots, including Captains and First Officers, which continues to hinder the airline’s recovery efforts.

In 2023, the number of pilots at Cathay Pacific increased by a mere 151. This figure falls significantly short, leaving a shortfall of 1,300 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. Experienced pilots continue to resign, further exacerbating the issue.

Since January 2023, the pilot numbers have only seen an increase of 151. In comparison, the current shortfall stands as follows:

To address the shortage, the airline has been recruiting pilots since October 2020. The recruitment efforts have resulted in the addition of:

However, it is worth noting that half of the recruitment during the recovery period has been for Second Officers, the only pilot category that is currently fully staffed. Consequently, many Second Officers remain grounded, unable to contribute to the airline’s operations.

Pilot Training is also a factor that needs attention. The HKAOA’s analysis reveals that Cathay Pacific would need to conduct approximately 1,800 Captain and First Officer upgrade courses, in addition to Second Officer induction training, to restore capacity to pre-pandemic levels. This means that as many as 1,300 Second Officers may be required.

In 2023, the airline managed to add only 208 Captains and 5 First Officers through its training programs. Even with a significant increase in training capacity, it is estimated that it will take at least three years to fully restore capacity to pre-pandemic levels. By that time, the expanded Hong Kong airport will demand even more capacity.

To expedite the recovery process within a reasonable timeframe, the airline must focus on attracting back the experienced pilots who left during the pandemic. Alongside improvements in pay, the HKAOA suggests two key changes to make Cathay Pacific more enticing to pilots.

Firstly, the airline must re-establish a serious collaborative relationship with pilots, which includes recognizing the HKAOA as the representative body for pilots. Secondly, a mutually enforceable contract needs to be reinstated. The decisions made by Cathay management since October 2020 have negatively impacted the airline’s reputation as an employer of choice. Without these changes, Cathay Pacific will struggle to retain current pilots and attract the necessary talent.

As it stands, Cathay Pacific is operating at less than half its previous size. The recent disappointments faced by thousands of passengers during the holiday season will soon be followed by an announcement of strong profits, with the majority flowing to John Swire & Sons Ltd in London. The HKAOA reiterates its call for a government inquiry into Cathay management’s actions in October 2020 and their utilization of taxpayer bailout funds. The association believes that these actions have resulted in a diminished aviation skills base, negatively impacting the HKG International Aviation Hub and undermining the 14th National 5-year plan, which designates aviation as an emerging pillar of the Hong Kong economy.