Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. has started a review that could lead to the shuttering of its pilot bases in the US, the Hong Kong carrier’s last overseas outpost, as it continues to cut costs to stem a cash drain from operating so few flights during the Covid crisis.
Cathay has bases in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Anchorage, a major cargo hub. The airline’s US-based passenger pilots—who operate Boeing Co. 777 aircraft—haven’t flown for more than two years because of the pandemic, and access to Hong Kong remains restricted. There are fewer than Cathay 100 pilots based in the US, where they are on more expensive legacy contracts.
“Our US-based pilots have been informed that the company is contemplating closing all US pilot bases and offering our US-based pilots the opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong, subject to them holding or obtaining the right to live and work in the city,” a Cathay spokeswoman wrote in an email.
Cathay has already closed bases in the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and shed hundreds of pilot jobs due to the devastating impact of the pandemic, which has forced it to operate only a small fraction of its pre-virus flight schedule. Hong Kong continues to require incoming travelers to quarantine for at least seven days, and only recently eased access to tourists.
“We will engage in discussions with the affected parties,” the Cathay spokeswoman said. “We would like to emphasize that the proposal to close our US pilot bases is not a reflection on the professionalism of our US-based pilots and we hope that all can continue to remain employed with Cathay Pacific.”
The US Aircrew Officers Association, which represents the US-based pilots, told members in a May 26 email seen by Bloomberg News that the airline had informed it about a review detailing “the process for the potential closure of the base.”
The union didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The review comes as the global aviation industry, after cutting thousands of jobs to reduce costs at the height of the pandemic, struggles with a shortage of frontline staff now that most international borders have opened and people are flying again. Hong Kong, however, has been slower to reopen.
Cathay executives have previously raised concerns about an exodus of pilots from Hong Kong after rolling out new contracts with lower pay and fewer perks. Despite the potential US closure, the company has rehired hundreds of pilots and plans to bring back other former employees ahead of an anticipated recovery in air travel.
“We do not expect a significant impact to our operations,” the Cathay spokeswoman said of the US plan.