While this has been in the works for quite some time, it’s the end of an era at Cathay Pacific. As noted by Danny Lee at Bloomberg, the airline no longer has any foreign pilot bases. Not only do I feel bad for all the pilots and their families who have been impacted by this decision, but I can’t help but feel sad about this, as it kind of symbolically reflects how Hong Kong isn’t quite the global city it once was.
Cathay Pacific no longer has foreign-based pilots
One of the things that historically made Cathay Pacific unique was how many foreign crew bases the Hong Kong-based airline had, both for flight attendants and pilots. If you were flying from many gateways in the United States, it wasn’t unusual to have the entire crew (cockpit and cabin) be based in the United States.
Unfortunately we’ve seen Cathay Pacific more or less take an axe to its foreign crew bases. Discussions of this already happened pre-pandemic, when Hong Kong was facing protests that greatly decreased travel to the airport.
However, the pandemic more or less brought Cathay Pacific to a standstill, given the strict border restrictions that Hong Kong maintained for so long. One-by-one, Cathay Pacific has closed its foreign pilot bases, and that project is now complete.
As of November 1, 2022, Cathay Pacific no longer has any foreign-based pilots. Most recently, Cathay Pacific shut down its pilot bases in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, which were the last international bases remaining.
In the past couple of years we’ve also seen pilot bases closed in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. This all follows Cathay Pacific closing all of its US flight attendant bases right at the start of the pandemic.
This is sad for pilots & their families
Obviously Cathay Pacific has been in an incredibly tough spot in recent years, and that even dates back to before the pandemic. I can’t fault the airline for looking to cut costs.
In theory pilots are being given the opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong, though that isn’t 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, as it’s anyone’s guess what Hong Kong will look like a decade from now.
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 American Airlines — rather they’d start at the bottom of the seniority list.
Cathay Pacific had over 100 pilots based in the United States, and apparently 60+ of them have left the company. That’s sad.
It’s my understanding that this was all a cost cutting initiative. I’m confused as to whether the overall compensation structure for US-based pilots was better, or if it’s just more efficient in terms of staffing to have one central pilot base. I have to imagine it’s primarily the latter, as Hong Kong-based pilots have historically received huge housing allowances, along with other perks.
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 in the United States
- It’s a pretty cushy job to fly almost exclusively between the United States 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. Historically, 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 had an American or Canadian accent didn’t mean they were based in the United States or Canada, as Cathay Pacific also has lots of Hong Kong-based expat pilot.
I’m sad that on future Cathay Pacific flights, there will no longer be the guessing game of whether the pilots are based in Hong Kong or not. Of course more than anything, I’m just sad that so many of these great pilots either left the airline, or had to move their lives halfway around the world.
Cathay Pacific has completed the process of closing all of its foreign pilot bases. Most recently, the company’s three bases in the United States closed as of the end of October 2022. While pilots have the option of relocating to Hong Kong, that’s not an easy decision to make, and that’s also why most pilots didn’t take up that opportunity.
Best of luck to all the great Cathay Pacific pilots who got us safely across the Pacific over the years, and are now pursuing different opportunities.
What do you make of Cathay Pacific closing its foreign pilot bases?