Plans by Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific to cut labour costs by setting up a cabin crew base in Bangkok have had to be abandoned following complaints by attendants that the rostering system was unworkable.

The move is a body blow to a longer term scheme to open other offshore bases as a means of escaping some of the high costs of operating from Hong Kong. But the carrier says it hasn't scrapped the idea of basing flight attendants in other countries.

The airline refuses to specify the potential savings from basing crew offshore but they are understood to be substantial. The Bangkok base was originally set up as a trial in November 1995, says Nigel Hadfield, Cathay's manager cabin crew relations. The company had to take 'the unfortunate decision' to stop the Bangkok trial after a thorough, in-depth study of the advantages and problems of running the base, he adds.

'Some advantages did appear from this basing trial. However, the complexity of the base operations added to our overall operations, and to [demands on] management, outweighed all the benefits it brought. For instance, rostering for the Bangkok Base Crew was neither easy nor very effective,' explains Hadfield. He adds that despite the obvious difficulties involved in operating bases in the region for short-haul routes, Cathay is now investigating the potential benefits of establishing a long-haul base.

The carrier has also suffered a further setback in cutting cockpit crew costs. Sources say the airline has rejected up to 50 foreign pilots it was training to fly cargo aircraft, apparently because they failed to come up to standard. They were to have joined Aircrew Services Ltd (ASL), set up in October last year to recruit more than 140 pilots to be based in North America, Europe and Australia, on local rates of pay.

Cathay cockpit crew costs for operating a single freighter are more than US$6 million a year, compared to a US operator's costs of only $1.8 million. Hiring cockpit crew overseas and basing them offshore at local rates should save the carrier around US$26 million annually.

The airline won't confirm the number of foreign pilots who have failed to come up to scratch, commenting only that its crews are among the best in the world. Cathay says it has received well over 1,000 applications for pilot positions with ASL.

'The number of ASL crew members who have not had their appointments confirmed is not especially high compared to industry standards. I can only give you assurances that the number of recruits who have left due to an inability to meet standards is not alarming, and that we would rather see a high turnover for this reason than compromise our standards,' the Cathay spokesman adds.


Source: Airline Business