Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific is pondering the closure of its London pilots base, putting as many as 100 jobs at risk. Following one of the worst years the aviation industry has ever seen, the airline is looking to save costs wherever it can.
The move to shut down Cathay’s London pilots base follows a similar action the airline made in the spring when it decided to close down its pilot bases in Toronto and Vancouver. Other pilot base closures followed in Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. No decision has yet been made on what Cathay Pacific will do with its pilot bases in the United States.
More jobs lost for Cathay
With no domestic market to rely on, Cathay Pacific has always been focused on connecting Hong Kong to the rest of the world. Due to its global network, Cathay Pacific has a high number of overseas foreign crew bases. According to the South China Morning Post, Cathay Pacific has been in touch with its London-based crews and their union representatives about the possible closure.
A spokesperson confirmed to SCMP that,
“We have notified our London-based pilots and their union representatives of a proposal to close our London pilot base. This is simply a proposal at this stage and no decisions have been made.”
The company also made the point that many of these crew members had not flown for more than a year, as the pandemic saw the majority of its flights shuttered.
HKG to LHR was a lucrative route
Before the pandemic turned the world on its head, Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to London Heathrow (LHR) was one of the Asian carrier’s most lucrative routes. In 2019, Cathay Pacific operated five flights a day from Hong Kong to London. Now, however, due in part to Hong Kong’s stringent COVID-19 requirements, the airline has been hard-pressed to operate one flight per day.
In May 2020, all Cathay Pacific’s overseas-based pilots were placed on standby, while those furloughed in Europe and the USA were placed on half-pay. In a move designed to help survive the crisis, Cathay Pacific decided to shut down its regionally subsidiary Cathay Dragon and undergo a restructuring which saw the loss of around 5,900 mainly Hong Kong jobs.
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Cathay Pacific $5 billion bailout
Fearing that Hong Kong could lose its status as a major international aviation hub if Cathay Pacific went under, the government stepped in with a HK$39 billion ($5 billion) bailout.
When speaking with the South China Morning Post about the bailout last summer, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-Po said:
“It’s not a random person or a random company,” Chan said. “We have to safeguard [the city’s] aviation rights; otherwise, this will cause systematic risk.”
Had Cathay Pacific been allowed to fail, Hong Kong faced the possibility of surrendering air traffic rights to Mainland Chinese carriers.
Given the current conditions and COVID-19 restrictions still in place in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific is still in a money-saving mode as it looks to emerge from the crisis as a profitable airline once more.
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