Hong Kong To Loosen Cargo Pilot COVID-19 Rules

Hong Kong is adjusting its rules for airline crew quarantine when it comes to cargo pilots. The Special Administrative Region will lift a 14-day quarantine requirement for Hong Kong-based crew if they are fully vaccinated (with exceptions). Announced on Friday, this new policy will allow Cathay Pacific to boost its freighter and cargo-only flights, having previously been constrained by quarantine rules for its pilots.

Hong Kong To Loosen Cargo Pilot COVID-19 Rules
Cathay Pacific’s Cargo division has a total of 20 Boeing 747 freighters. 14 of these are the newer 747-8F (with an average age of eight years), while the remainder are 747-400Fs (with an average of 12 years). Photo: cyycspotter via Wikimedia Commons 

Vaccinated cargo crew can skip quarantine

The government of Hong Kong has eased its quarantine measures for cargo crews as of Friday, April 16th. According to Freight Waves, pilots and other onboard personnel who are fully vaccinated are now exempt from a 14-day quarantine upon their return to Hong Kong. There is one exception to this new policy, however, as it excludes aircrews that have had a layover in the UK or South Africa.

Prior to this recent change, the one quarantine exemption in place for freighter crews was for those making stops in Anchorage, Alaska. Now, however, this has also been extended to six countries: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand – countries where transmission is considered to be low-risk. However, despite the quarantine waiver, crews must stay away from local communities during these layovers.

Hong Kong To Loosen Cargo Pilot COVID-19 Rules
Cathay Pacific will benefit the most from this new change. Photo: tjdarmstadt via Wikimedia Commons 

Welcome news for Cathay Pacific

For Cathay Pacific and its cargo operations, this is much-welcomed news. Previously, pilots and aircrew would have had to stay in a hotel for two weeks after returning from overseas duty. Following the 14 days of quarantine would be seven days of medical surveillance.

For Cathay Pacific’s passenger operations, this has meant duty periods as long as 49 days for some crew members. This consists of a three-week work period followed by two weeks of quarantine and another two weeks of time off.

Cathay Pacific Cargo will benefit by being able to increase its freighter and cargo-only passenger operations, gradually restoring a full freighter schedule. The LoadStar notes that the airline has had to cut 25% of its cargo capacity since the aircrew quarantine requirement came into effect on February 20th. The policy even had the effect of raising the airline’s monthly cash burn by some $50 million.

Cathay Pacific operates 20 Boeing 747 freighters – 14 of these are the newer -8F, with the other six being -400Fs. These freighters, in addition to a sizeable, all-widebody passenger fleet, made Cathay the fifth-largest air cargo carrier by volume before the health crisis.

Hong Kong To Loosen Cargo Pilot COVID-19 Rules
Pilots and crew having stops in the UK or South Africa will still need to quarantine due to the more infectious variants present in those areas. Photo: Md Shaifuzzaman Ayon via Wikimedia Commons 

“We welcome the government’s announcement…These changes enable us to increase our freighter and cargo-only passenger flight operations with immediate effect and gradually restore our full freighter schedule. We are reviewing crew resources for May and will announce our freighter schedule as soon as possible.” -Cathay Pacific via The Load Star

The airline adds that it is “acutely aware” of the impact these measures have had on its partners and shippers, thanking them for their patience and continued support.

FedEx will also benefit

FedEx will also be happy with this news. Reuters reported that the shipping company relocated many of its Hong Kong domiciled pilots to San Francisco so they wouldn’t be isolated from their families.

Hong Kong To Loosen Cargo Pilot COVID-19 Rules
With the government change, FedEx’s Hong Kong-based pilots can return from being temporarily relocated to San Francisco. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr 

A memo stated that the company would cover hotel costs and out-of-pocket expenses for pilots and their families in San Francisco while at the same time continuing to pay their housing allowances in Hong Kong. This move was implemented to allow Hong Kong-based crew members to see their families after finishing a trip.

With the change in Hong Kong policy, these pilots can be re-located once again from San Francisco back to Hong Kong.

What do you think of this policy? Should other countries with strict quarantine requirements for aircrew also consider doing something similar? Let us know in the comments.