In the past couple of years, Cathay Pacific closed its flight attendant bases in North America (including in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver), and now the airline is closing its pilot bases in Canada, with more foreign pilot bases at risk of closing in the coming months.
Cathay Pacific closes Toronto & Vancouver pilot bases
One of the things that has historically made Cathay Pacific unique is how many foreign crew bases the Hong Kong-based airline has, both for flight attendants and pilots. Unfortunately these seem to largely be a victim of the pandemic.
Danny Lee from the South China Morning Post reports that Cathay Pacific has made the decision to close its pilot crew bases in Toronto and Vancouver.
- Pilots based in Canada will be given the option to be transfered to Hong Kong, though this presents its own issues; Hong Kong is currently only issuing temporary work visas to expats, and Cathay Pacific already has a surplus of local pilots due to Cathay Dragon being merged into Cathay Pacific
- All foreign based Cathay Pacific pilots haven’t been flying since May 2020 — furloughed pilots in Europe and the United States have been receiving 50% of their salary, while pilots in Canada have been receiving 67% of their salary
- While no final decision has been made, Cathay Pacific has started a consultation process for closing pilot bases in Australia and New Zealand, and later this year will “review” its pilot bases in Europe and the United States
Cathay Pacific is closing some foreign crew bases
This is sad for pilots & their families
Obviously the airline industry overall is in a tough spot, and Cathay Pacific is in an especially rough situation. The airline was struggling even pre-coronavirus given everything that was going on in Hong Kong. Between continued border closures in Hong Kong and passenger numbers being a tiny fraction of what they were pre-pandemic, Cathay Pacific is continuing to bleed money.
While on the surface pilots based in Canada have the opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong, that’s not exactly an easy decision. Most pilots have families, so there’s a lot that goes into making a move like that.
That’s especially true when you consider the uncertainty with this — pilots may only be getting short term work visas, and who knows how long until they could eventually be let go due to lack of demand.
I feel bad for the pilots in this situation, especially given the general challenges with moving around in the airline industry. At most airlines, pilots are paid primarily based on seniority, so it’s not like a Cathay Pacific 777 captain of 20+ years can get a comparable job at Air Canada or another carrier (there might be some opportunities outside of North America, but again, that’s a big sacrifice).
Pilots will be given the opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong
I’ve always loved Cathay Pacific’s foreign bases
When I was a kid it was my dream to become an airline pilot. When I thought of the airline I most wanted to work for, Cathay Pacific was always number one on my list. Why?
- Unlike most other foreign airlines, Cathay Pacific had crew bases in the US, so you could be based in the US while working for the airline
- Cathay Pacific hired 777 second officers (essentially relief pilots on long haul flights) with similar experience requirements to a first officer position at a regional airline
- It’s a pretty cushy job to fly almost exclusively between the US and Hong Kong, as you basically work three or so roundtrips per month and then max out your hours
- At the time Cathay Pacific was promoting people from second officer all the way to captain in less than 10 years, while being a wide body captain at a US airline typically takes 20+ years of seniority
While I never ended up becoming a professional pilot, I still have great respect for airline pilots, and in particular am fascinated by Cathay Pacific pilots. Every time I board a Cathay Pacific flight I intently listen to the announcement from the pilot, and love how international the cockpit crews are.
Of course just because a pilot has an American or Canadian accent doesn’t mean they’re based in the US or Canada, as Cathay Pacific has a lot of expat pilots based in Hong Kong as well.
If Cathay Pacific does follow through with closing most foreign crew bases, I’ll be sad to no longer be able to guess whether pilots are Hong Kong based or not (and of course much more importantly would be sad that these people may either be out of a job or have to move their life halfway around the world).
I’ve always loved how international Cathay Pacific pilots are
Cathay Pacific recently closed its flight attendant bases in North America, and now the airline is closing its pilot bases in Canada, with other foreign bases potentially being reevaluated as well.
While Cathay Pacific pilots will have the option of relocating to Hong Kong, that’s not exactly an easy decision to make. Not only will pilots have to move their families halfway around the world, but there’s also the question of how much job security there is in Hong Kong with a short term work visa.