Cathay Pacific To Axe Their Pilot Base In Canada, Reviewing Australia and New Zealand

Cathay Pacific is reported to shut its pilot base in Canada, while those in Australia and New Zealand are also under review for closure amid a traffic slump and route cuts.

The closure of these bases will affect several hundred pilot jobs and comes on the heels of Cathay already closing their four North American cabin crew bases last year, axing 450 jobs.

Cathay Pacific is still transporting single digit percentages in terms of passenger numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels and is in the process to streamline their operations, measured by current and projected future demand.

Cathay Pacific employs a lot of foreign pilots (and flight attendants), especially American, Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand nationals, some of which have been based in their own countries. Now some these bases will get culled in an effort to reduce the numbers of employees and costs.

As the South China Morning Post reports today the Canada base will definitely be closed while Australia and New Zealand are pending review.

Cathay Pacific Airways will close its Canadian pilot base, and is considering doing the same to ones in Australia and New Zealand, putting hundreds of jobs at risk, the Post has learned.

The moves come as part of a review of the airline’s overseas cockpit crew operations, which will also see it re-evaluate its European and United States pilot bases later this year, according to a memo sent to staff on Thursday. The memo indicated the airline would start to transfer pilots to Hong Kong on a voluntary basis.

However, if the carrier were to transfer overseas pilots to Hong Kong, it could prove controversial. Existing expatriate cockpit crew in the city are only receiving short-term work visa approvals, and there is a large pool of unemployed local pilots following the shutdown of Cathay Dragon last year. Hong Kong authorities could block the move.

Furloughed Europe- and US-based pilots have been receiving half of their salary, while their Canadian colleagues were getting two-thirds. Since April 1, however, Cathay has not been paying its Australian crews. All overseas passenger fleet pilots had been stood down since May last year, the airline said.

Deborah McConnochie, Cathay’s general manager for aircrew, said the decision to close the Canada base was “not taken lightly”. She said the airline had also written to Australian and New Zealand pilots to start a consultative process “based on a proposal to close those base areas”.

“We have not made any decisions on bases other than Canada at this time nor any general decision on the future of bases – each base area will be considered on its own merits and any decision to close, maintain or restructure that base area will not have a bearing on any subsequent base reviews,” she said in a statement. …

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman confirmed the review of overseas pilot bases had resulted in the closure of the Canadian base and consultations on facilities elsewhere. However, the airline stressed that closing the Australia and New Zealand bases remained a proposal, and a final decision had not been made. …

Cockpit crew bases in Europe and US are to be reviewed later this year, facing a similar fate.

In 2020 Cathay had closed cabin crew bases in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Vancouver. Contributing factor being that the Vancouver-New York-Vancouver rotation has been dropped by the airline in favor of direct flights. I really loved that YVR-JFK flight.

Just like the cabin crews overseas pilots are protected by local labor regulations and continue to receive pay as stipulated by their contracts and union agreements. It depends on individual cases when these benefits run out and when Cathay deems that these employees are becoming too expensive and complicated to keep around.

As the article mentions there is already a surplus of previously furloughed Cathay Dragon pilots. In how far they can even be used for Cathay Pacific Mainline in terms of aircraft they’re allowed to fly depends on their type rating. Cathay Dragon has a fleet that consisted of Airbus A320/A321/A330. The backbone of Cathay Pacific (including Cargo) today are still Boeing 777/747 but the company has also received plenty (36) of Airbus A350’s and still operates 11 Airbus A330.

If any of these pilots would be willing or able to move to Hong Kong for a new job is all but certain at this point.

Conclusion

Cathay Pacific is undergoing steps to downsize their global operations and centralize their pilots to be based in Hong Kong rather than having worldwide outstations with locally employed pilots and flight attendants. Dealing with all these different labor laws must have been extra stress for Cathay management as well.

Further bases are still being evaluated and it’s likely that more of them will get the axe by the end of 2021 while the carrier continues to bleed cash. Pilots face either a complete dismissal or a transfer to Hong Kong on limited term contracts.

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