Cathay Pacific: Pilots Send Letter To Company Claiming Exhaustion And Safety Concerns

Some senior Cathay Pacific pilots have sent a letter to their management claiming that the scheduling of the crews rotation leads to excessive fatigue and poses safety threats.

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The crew is especially concerned about their roster to Europe as well as Australia where additional reserve crew has been scrapped by the airline.

South China Morning Post (access here) published the full letter alongside a response from Cathay Pacific.

The letter questions whether safety is the airline’s top priority.

Cathay Pacific insists it is. The Hong Kong-based airline has never had an aviation accident resulting in a plane being written off beyond repair. Read its full statement at the bottom of the story.

Pilots say it is not too late to “to change course.”

A related article as well from SCMP (see here) which was published last week dealt with the matter again.

Flight safety is under threat as exhausted aircrews cope with increasing workloads, senior Cathay Pacific pilots have warned in a letter to the airline’s management that is seen by the Sunday Morning Post.

Cathay responded by saying safety was its top priority. The carrier confirmed having received the letter, which it said “expressed some concerns”.

Some concerns is a bit of a lukewarm explanation considering the content of the letter.

According to the airline’s most experienced captains in the 1,900-word letter, bearing nearly 100 signatures, rank-and-file pilots were “tired and worn out” as they were routinely hitting the cap on flying hours – known as approved flight time limitation (AFTL) – governed by Hong Kong’s aviation regulator to prevent fatigue. This came after a rostering practices agreement between the airline and its pilots was recently axed.

One pilot who declined to be named so as not to breach company policy said aircrews working up to the maximum flying hours regularly risked an accident sooner or later.

“The AFTL is an ultimate barrier,” the source said. “The concern we have is, if you’re working right up to that barrier continuously, it’s not sensible. It’s like driving at the speed limit the entire time.

“You are generating cumulative fatigue the whole time and when you start your next duty, you haven’t recovered fully.”

I think these crew duty times are a fine line and pilots are a group that are often perceived as being whiny and over entitled (recent commentary during the numerous Lufthansa strike actions come to mind).

One has to differentiate however between protest for more personal financial gain and a true safety concern such as in this case. The letter reads:

“We the undersigned are writing to you to express our utmost concern and alarm at the recent termination of our [agreement], specifically the potential change in crewing levels and how this may effect fatigue levels and, by extension flight safety,” the letter, addressed to director of flight operations Anna Thompson, said.

The senior pilots said they felt compelled to speak out “as custodians of a safe flying culture” within the airline and “have a responsibility … to voice our concern” on what was happening.

It appears that Cathay Pacific is feeling the squeeze a bit, respectively starts to maximize profit. While I personally always liked to fly on Cathay I feel that their operations become increasingly unreliable, much of it as a result of a congested Hong Kong Airport and the Air Traffic Control in the region.

Conclusion

Cathay Pacific grows rapidly especially with growing passenger demand from China. At the same time operations become difficult due to capacity issues at their home base in Hong Kong (which currently also undergoes a massive expansion program) as well as all traffic going in and out of Chinese airspace which is choking with traffic.

It will be interesting to see how staff reacts long term to these squeezes from company management. Even if a flat out strike is ruled out, crew can always do duty by the book which means calling in sick, writing up small technical issues and henceforth delaying flights. Passengers don’t like such unexpected impacts on their travel plans.

 

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