Cathay Pacific is considering reopening and expanding international pilot bases in order to avoid severe pandemic precautions and quarantine laws in Hong Kong, which have been blamed for a pilot exodus in recent weeks.
Despite the fact that the airline is only running a quarter of its pre-pandemic schedule, the carrier has announced plans to add several hundred pilots next year. Cathay Pacific’s staffing problems have been exacerbated by Hong Kong’s refusal to grant international expat pilots working visas.
Cathay Pacific could hire more local pilots, but that wouldn’t fix the quarantine problem that has plagued the airline for much of the year. The introduction of the Omicron model has hardened the authorities’ stance even more, and even more limits on flight crews are expected to be revealed soon.
After roughly 200 Cathay Pacific pilots, flight attendants, and their families were placed into the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp last month, a wave of resignations followed.
Because of the impact, the work is having on their mental health, more crew are refusing to volunteer for quarantine-inducing flights or failing to show up for rostered responsibilities.
Pilots and cabin crew members volunteer to work in a “closed-loop” system in which they are imprisoned in a quarantined hotel for 21 days at a time when not on a flight. They must then spend another two weeks in quarantine after the 21-day period is through.
For high-risk personnel who may be exposed to COVID-19, the ‘closed loop’ system is widely employed in China.
“These rules and the length of time they have been in force are placing a burden on our aircrew,” a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific recently admitted. “The environment has been challenging for everyone.”
Cathay Pacific declared just a few months ago that it would close its London crew base and close its US sites as well. As the airline develops a long-term and sustainable plan to maintain flying despite Hong Kong’s ongoing pandemic limitations, those closures may be reversed.
Operating numerous overseas crew bases can be expensive, but in the current climate, it would be less expensive and potentially more reliable than navigating Hong Kong’s ever-changing quarantine restrictions.
Cathay Pacific has also closed its international flight attendant bases in recent years, and the airline has no plans to reopen any of them at this time.