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Cathay Pacific faces ‘unprecedented staff shortage’, Hong Kong’s main trade union warns

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CNN Business

Hong Kong’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific is facing ‘unprecedented’ staff shortages and may not be ready for a surge in demand as the city ends its policy Covid strict and reopening for international travel.

A leading local union warned on Thursday of “a record number of resignations from the company’s most experienced pilots”, saying Cathay “has lost more than 40% of its captains and co-pilots”.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (HKAOA) said the carrier was “unprepared to regain its industry-leading position, threatening Hong Kong’s status as a global aircrew hub. aviation”.

The group cited a breakdown in negotiations over wages, among other working conditions.

Hong Kong’s flagship airline is ‘faced with unprecedented staff and training shortages’ and ‘unprepared to fully resume operations, failing to meet demand in a booming travel market “, said the HKAOA.

Like most airlines, Cathay has been battered during the pandemic. Once known as a top employer, the carrier last year faced falling morale, rising resignations and mounting frustration as staff endured Hong Kong’s strenuous quarantine measures, which were among the strictest in the world.

But, this month, Hong Kong ended its two-and-a-half-year quarantine measures, leading to a surge in demand for outbound travel.

The news brought much-needed relief to Cathay, which was forced to reduce capacity to just 2% of pre-pandemic levels during the global health crisis.

In recent weeks, Cathay said it would add hundreds of new flight services in response to the relaxation of border controls. It even set up a virtual “waiting room” for its booking site as customers flooded its platform to buy tickets.

Now the company finds itself once again on the defensive as pilots warn of lingering problems in the workplace.

Asked for comment on Thursday, a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific told CNN Business that it “has enough qualified and experienced aviation professionals to continue to support the current operation and operate at the highest level of security and customer service.

“We remain focused on building connectivity between Hong Kong and the world as quickly as possible. However, it will still take time to rebuild our capability as we strengthen operational readiness and undertake a substantial amount of aircraft training and reactivation,” the spokesperson said.

The company has already launched a huge recruiting campaign to recruit “more than 4,000 frontline employees to support Cathay Pacific’s operational needs over the next 18 to 24 months,” the spokesperson added.

“We believe that our pilot contracts are competitive contracts.”

But as Hong Kong reopens after the pandemic, other airlines are deciding on a different approach. On Wednesday, Virgin Atlantic announced the closure of its Hong Kong office and the non-resuming of services between the Asian hub and London’s Heathrow Airport.

“Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing closure of Russian airspace contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned,” the company said.

Flights between London Heathrow and Hong Kong airport have been suspended since December 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route and to anyone booked to travel from March 2023, whose flights will be canceled,” the company said, adding that customers affected will be able to change their flights without change. charges or may request a refund.

“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused to affected customers,” he said.

Wayne Chang in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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