Cathay Pacific on Thursday rejected claims from the union representing the majority of its cockpit crew that an exodus of pilots has left it in no position to fully resume its operations, though the airline acknowledged that rebuilding capacity after the Covid pandemic will take time.
The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) had said in a statement that a shortage of qualified pilots was undermining Cathay's efforts to rebuild capacity and damaging Hong Kong's status as an international aviation hub.
The union said the airline now employed fewer than 2,500 pilots, compared to more than 4,000 in October 2020, the month in which Cathay imposed what union leaders described as a "ruthless permanent reduction in pay and conditions of service" on frontline staff.
The HKAOA said the departures were concentrated among senior crew who had been with the airline for decades, and said experienced pilots were continuing to resign at "unprecedented rates".
In a statement to RTHK, Cathay said: "Cathay Pacific has sufficient qualified and experienced aviation professionals to continue to support the current operation and operate at the highest levels of safety and customer service.
"We remain focused on building connectivity between Hong Kong and the world as swiftly as we possibly can. However, it will still take time to rebuild our capacity as we build operational readiness and undertake a substantial amount of training and aircraft reactivation.
"This, combined with other operational complexities, means that capacity can only be increased gradually over time."
Cathay said the reduction in passenger flights to a fraction of normal levels during the Covid pandemic had left many aircrew needing to renew licences. But it said a training plan was under way, along with a comprehensive recruitment programme that will see 4,000 staff hired over the coming 18 to 24 months.
"We will build capacity and add more flights to our network. This remains our priority," the statement added.
The company said changes to pay were required to create a "more focused, more efficient and more competitive business for the post-Covid travel landscape," adding: "Our goal was to protect as many jobs as possible, whilst meeting our responsibilities to the Hong Kong aviation hub and our customers."
Along with its subsidiaries, Cathay had 20,800 employees globally by June 30, down from 34,200 at the end of 2019, after cutting thousands of roles during the pandemic, Reuters reported.
Cathay had said last month that it planned to increase flight capacity to one-third of pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year after the SAR eliminated mandatory hotel quarantine and eased entry requirements, including for air crew. (RTHK/Reuters)