The Cathay Pacific Airways pilots' "sick-out" is costing the airline millions of dollars daily, and forcing it to wet-lease aircraft from 10 carriers in an attempt to minimise disruption.

The action began on 28 May with the cancellation of three flights by pilots who called in sick, claiming excessive stress as a result of a long-running pay dispute with the airline's management. Since then, hundreds of Cathay flights have been cancelled, with 47 of 109 scheduled flights stopped on 2 June, and 56 cancellations out of 117 the following day.

Cathay says it has offered about 75%-80% of its normal capacity through charter flights operated by Canadian Airlines, Dragonair, Taiwan's EVA Airways, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Canada's Royal Aviation, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International, Vietnam Airlines and US-based World Airways.

The airline introduced a bookings freeze on flights up to 18 June on the day disruptions began.

The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association (AOA) met on 2 June with the government's labour commissioner Matthew Cheung, who was due to meet Cathay management the following day to try to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

Cathay shows no sign of flexibility in its stance. The management is offering share options to senior pilots on the old "A" pay scale, in exchange for pay cuts of 7% to 22%. Cathay has given its pilots until 11 June to accept these terms or take early retirement.

The pilot's union says it will call a strike vote if any pilot is sacked. The AOA has received support from the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations, which says that the management ultimatum is "a direct attack against the Cathay Pacific flight crew, and an attack on the rights of trade unions".

The airline argues that it can no longer afford to pay such high salaries, give the slump in Asian economies.

Source: Flight International