The Hong Kong government has raised concern over Cathay Pacific’s spate of flight cancellations over the year-end period, urging the airline to address the issue “as quickly as possible”.
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee says his government is “of course…very concerned” by the cancellations, which Cathay has blamed on pilot shortages amid a spike in “seasonal illnesses”.
Cathay cancelled 28 flights on New Year’s Day, on top of at least 40 other flights across the Christmas holidays. It will also cut 12 flights a day until the end of February, in a pre-emptive bid to avoid further cancellations during the Lunar New Year period in mid-February.
Lee stresses the importance of the city’s “whole aviation capacity”, and says the city’s transport and logistics bureau will get in touch with Cathay’s management “to ensure that the capacity is rebuilt as quickly as possible”.
“I also understand that this capacity constraint exists in many cities similar to Hong Kong…but in this competitive world…I want our aviation industry to rebuild its capacity fast and completely, so that we will be competitive as a whole,” Lee adds.
The spate of flight cancellations has put a dent on Cathay’s recovery momentum – the airline is targeting to fully recover operating capacity by this year.
It has also prompted the airline’s pilot union to call for a government-led inquiry into the operational snags.
In a statement dated 9 January, the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association laid the blame of the airline’s current woes on job cuts made in 2020, as part of company restructuring efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The union charged that Cathay made “deep and permanent” pay cuts, and fired thousands of its pilots and flight attendants, which it said “turned out to be disastrous for Hong Kong’s aviation skills base”.
According to its estimates, the airline has just over half the captains and first officers it had before the pandemic.
“Hong Kong aviation will continue to suffer until there is an acknowledgement of these mistakes and a change in leadership, particularly among those responsible for overseeing flight operations,” it adds.
Cathay did not immediately respond to the comments.