To cut costs, Cathay has slashed pilot base salaries by about 40 percent, angering many members of its aircrew. In January, in response to the airline’s use of fewer flight attendants per flight and reduction of recovery time between long flights, the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union introduced a “work to rule” campaign: discouraging flight attendants from performing duties beyond the scope of company guidelines. Officials with Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said in May that they had observed a trend of lower taxiing speeds among Cathay pilots after the airline’s new pay structure in effect gave them a disincentive from completing flights earlier than scheduled.
“They said we’ve got to save cash, but there’s not much point saving cash if you haven’t got an airline at the end of it,” said Paul Weatherilt, chairman of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, a pilot’s union, and a Cathay Pacific pilot for nearly three decades. “And that’s sort of the position they’re in now. They have half the airline.”
Before 2019, the airline had 3,840 pilots. Since then, 1,900 have resigned, according to the Aircrew Officers Association. The number of captains, the most senior pilots, has been halved. And while Cathay Pacific rehired dozens of pilots from the shuttered Cathay Dragon division in 2021 and 2022, many had to take pay cuts and demotions when accepting their offers. The lack of flights during the pandemic slowed the development of the training that first and second officers need to become captains. Senior pilot trainers and flight simulator instructors quit.
Despite its struggles, some industry analysts are optimistic that Cathay Pacific will recover. The company reported an annual profit last year, its first since 2019. Its flights are about 90 percent full, which is better than before the pandemic, and high ticket prices have helped revenue. During the pandemic, business from cargo flights kept the airline afloat.