Sad: Cathay Pacific Closes All Foreign Pilot Bases

Sad: Cathay Pacific Closes All Foreign Pilot Bases

47

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.

Cathay Pacific has closed all foreign pilot bases

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.

Pilots have been 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 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.

I’ve always loved how international Cathay Pacific pilots are

Bottom line

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?

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  1. Vl'ado Orlandich Guest

    It's a pity...

  2. Rich Guest

    Cathy guys make a shit ton more than any AA guy I have ever met. 60 left..likey closing in on 65 anyway, and that swire group trust WILL LOOK AFTER THEM..

    It sign of the times. As mentioned, lots of jobs for experienced, and not so experienced. But no way they will see dough like they were used to... foSure!!

    Like all Groups however,. There will be those that Bitch and moan, those that...

    Cathy guys make a shit ton more than any AA guy I have ever met. 60 left..likey closing in on 65 anyway, and that swire group trust WILL LOOK AFTER THEM..

    It sign of the times. As mentioned, lots of jobs for experienced, and not so experienced. But no way they will see dough like they were used to... foSure!!

    Like all Groups however,. There will be those that Bitch and moan, those that jump out, and those that retask and reminisce about the pay they used to make....

    Good Luck and Talley Ho Cathay Pilots: true stars and leaders in their Field that some carriers will never achieve..EVER!!

  3. iamhere Guest

    As someone mentioned about the unions, but also consider the airline. As you said they are a HK based airline so I doubt the demand for long haul to/from HK is very high now. Further if you are connecting there to other points in Asia the pricing would have to be very competitive to make it worthwhile. Surely those crew members will not have a hard time finding work since many airlines are in desperate need of those positions

  4. Insider Guest

    They are just doing what all the major airline have been doing in the last decade, so I am not sure why is this worth to pinpoint of. You name it BA, VS, KL etc, they all have closed their oversea crew base due to cost.

  5. Jumpseatflyer Guest

    I just moved to Hong Kong from Europe and joined CX, and I must say that it has been a very positive experience so far. What I would like to highlight is that HK is far better from the inside than the picture that is being painted about it on the outside. HK is as vibrant as ever, despite the visible scars from everything that has happened, and I am very confident that the city...

    I just moved to Hong Kong from Europe and joined CX, and I must say that it has been a very positive experience so far. What I would like to highlight is that HK is far better from the inside than the picture that is being painted about it on the outside. HK is as vibrant as ever, despite the visible scars from everything that has happened, and I am very confident that the city will come back to where it was.

    Personally, I like living here 10x better than in Europe, that's for sure. Furthermore, at CX, my team consists almost entirely of expats, and all of them are highly skilled. Despite a significant exodus during the last 2 years, new people are moving here, and they're liking it. The mood is getting better and the way out of tue pandemic is slowly visible. Yes, the pandemic control is ridiculous here but it's still much better than in Mainland China, and I'm optimistic that most of it will be gone soon.

    Anyways, this is just to show that CX is definitely alive and I personally think it has a great future ahead.

  6. Euro Aviation Guest

    When you're a crew member for an airline you just know your employment situation is fluid unless there's a contract. Well, even now, like in high tech employment, as an example, isn't a guarantee. Not enough "feeling bad" to go around. And so goes for Cathay foreign based crew.

  7. warren trout Guest

    You can't treat your crew like animals and lock them in rooms. The global airlines are begging for crew. They will just go elsewhere.

    The CCP doesn't rule the world.

  8. Phil Guest

    The massive housing allowance and salaries you talk of no longer exist at Cathay Pacific. The company used the pandemic to bring in permanent salary and condition reductions of up to 60%, never to be returned.
    The only way for displaced based pilots to transfer to Hong Kong, was if they possessed a Hong Kong permanent ID card, which the majority did not.
    So this once magnificent airline that I aspired to fly...

    The massive housing allowance and salaries you talk of no longer exist at Cathay Pacific. The company used the pandemic to bring in permanent salary and condition reductions of up to 60%, never to be returned.
    The only way for displaced based pilots to transfer to Hong Kong, was if they possessed a Hong Kong permanent ID card, which the majority did not.
    So this once magnificent airline that I aspired to fly with no longer exists.
    Outdated corporate bonuses paid to the directors have all but destroyed a once great airline.

  9. Peter Stokes Guest

    This is so sad, and a sad day for such a great company I worked for 1994 to 2015, I was fortunate to work with this amazing group of pilots that were part of my every day job , also it was sad to see the cabin Crew bases close, I wish them all the best in their future endeavours, good luck Cathay for the future but you let amazing people go

  10. Josh Guest

    This needs a bit more backstory:

    Cathay’s (mostly expat) pilots have been shafted by the company for decades, both in terms of reduced pay scale, diminished housing allowances, work schedules and overall conditions. 49 expat pilots (the “49ers”) were fired in a union-busting move back in 2001 and it’s gone downhill from there. Rather than organizing further and standing up to the airline, the pilots just allowed their contracts to be further degraded. Tons of...

    This needs a bit more backstory:

    Cathay’s (mostly expat) pilots have been shafted by the company for decades, both in terms of reduced pay scale, diminished housing allowances, work schedules and overall conditions. 49 expat pilots (the “49ers”) were fired in a union-busting move back in 2001 and it’s gone downhill from there. Rather than organizing further and standing up to the airline, the pilots just allowed their contracts to be further degraded. Tons of interesting history along with the complaining about management on PPRune’s “Fragrant Harbour” forum. The current salary and benefits are far too below market for a westerner, hence Cathay becoming a local Chinese airline which sweats its labor. Not a good look for an airline, and perhaps not so safe.

    Contrast this with the CX flight attendants union (largely local Cantonese) which has stuck up with a unified, militant face and gotten some really nice pay rises over the years.

    At this point Swire management (which blew a billion dollars by making a terrible fuel hedge mistake) is just trying to get what they can out of the carrier before selling the name to some PRC entity - possibly Air China - and then walking away. Cathay as we all knew and loved it is dead and gone.

    1. Phil Guest

      Cathay hid behind the draconian employment laws in Hong Kong. The crew were on three month rolling contracts. The company could fire you for no reason by giving you three months salary.

  11. gideyup11 New Member

    Delta and United also closed their Tokyo crew base in past few years, so this isn't unusual. The era of expat workers getting expat pay and benefit packages is long over not just for pilots, but in the Corporate world as well (where I worked). This makes sense since many countries are more than capable of having home grown talent fill these roles. Given this, why should an airline or a bank (for example) pay...

    Delta and United also closed their Tokyo crew base in past few years, so this isn't unusual. The era of expat workers getting expat pay and benefit packages is long over not just for pilots, but in the Corporate world as well (where I worked). This makes sense since many countries are more than capable of having home grown talent fill these roles. Given this, why should an airline or a bank (for example) pay more for an expat pay + benefit package? Bottom line: Nothing much to see here other than "nostalgia for an era gone by".

  12. Bill Guest

    Always wanted to visit Hong Kong and stay at the new Ritz Carlton after flying A350 CX business from US. Even better woukd have been above 3 plus VHHH. Clearly none of that will ever happen now so I’m done with visiting China…for good. There are other cleaner, nicer, friendlier destinations to visit

    1. warren trout Guest

      Me too. I used to love visiting China. Never again. It has become the greatest evil the world has known. Thanks Xi

  13. Marco C Guest

    Frank B needs a history lesson. Hong Kong was a land-grab by the British, not colonization of a people. The terrible part was the opium wars and forcing China to open up to trade. Hong Kong island had a few thousand residents. It was basically just a port. Hong Kong today is the creation of the people of Hong Kong and the British. The Chinese had nothing to do with it. This wasn’t colonization. Hong...

    Frank B needs a history lesson. Hong Kong was a land-grab by the British, not colonization of a people. The terrible part was the opium wars and forcing China to open up to trade. Hong Kong island had a few thousand residents. It was basically just a port. Hong Kong today is the creation of the people of Hong Kong and the British. The Chinese had nothing to do with it. This wasn’t colonization. Hong Kong wasn’t a democracy under the British but there were far more rights and protections than now. Take your Chinese talking points somewhere else.

  14. John doe Guest

    Now all boarding announcements will start with “ladies and guntleman”

    1. Insider Guest

      They have already replaced with “Hello everyone”

    1. HypocritesGoHome Guest

      As opposed to who? You're a trump, right? You're probably a Walmart fanatic. 90% of their goods are made in a communist country, but you're okay with it because you're a typical hypocrite, I mean Trump supporter.

    2. Warren Trout Guest

      How ridiculous. Maybe a middle ground? You defending the CCP?

  15. Colin Guest

    Can we talk about how annoying CX made their award search in their new website revamp? It only allows you to search by a specific airline and they don’t have many options. For example, flying NRT-MUC they only gave me JL as an option and I wanted to book with QR. I’d have to fill out a form and wait 72 hours to book with QR.

  16. Steve Piran Guest

    To survive, CX has to come up with cost savings plan. Maybe the foreign bases are becoming too costly.
    Pilots can always, relocate to HKG n leave their families at home. Anyway,I wish them all the best.

  17. Super Gold

    Can anyone shed light on why pilots cannot transfer laterally to another company at the same level, like every other industry on the planet? 20YoE flying a 777 doesn't vanish just because it says AA on the outside of the plane instead of Cathay. That sounds like collusion to keep pilot wages low because of inability to open yourself to competing offers.

    1. Kevin Guest

      That would be caused by what is called a "Labor Union".

    2. Lune Gold

      Short answer: union rules (I don't mean that as an insult to unions). Pilots within an airline also generally support this rule. It's a classic tragedy of the commons. Those AA pilots who currently fly 777s sure as heck don't want a bunch of former Cathay pilots now bumping them down to 737s.

      It boils down to security: once you join an airline, you have a seniority number and it pretty much never changes. New...

      Short answer: union rules (I don't mean that as an insult to unions). Pilots within an airline also generally support this rule. It's a classic tragedy of the commons. Those AA pilots who currently fly 777s sure as heck don't want a bunch of former Cathay pilots now bumping them down to 737s.

      It boils down to security: once you join an airline, you have a seniority number and it pretty much never changes. New hires, no matter what their previous experience, will always come in behind you. No one will ever come in ahead of you. That means you can plan your career more stably without having to worry about what's happening at other airlines (if an airline suddenly goes bankrupt and a bunch of senior pilots jump in ahead of you) or the economy in general. Heck, imagine if the 777 pilots at AA bargained hard and got an awesome contract, much better than Cathay, and then all of a sudden, all those Cathay pilots jumped in to take advantage of the new contract you fought for? If you're an AA pilot, what incentive do you have to negotiate a better contract if it means pilots from competing airlines will jump ship and push you off your plane?

      The only decision you have to make for your longterm career is picking your airline carefully when you're a junior. And there's the rub: if you pick wrong, you could end up like these Cathay pilots. But if you pick right, you'll have a long, secure, easily predictable career without having to worry about the rest of the industry. It seems that most pilots have chosen this type of setup vs. some sort of global seniority list (even one limited to just ALPA members) where you can never be sure of where you stand in your airline.

    3. Chris Guest

      They support it when they're the ones at the top. As soon as the Sh*t hits the fan they no longer support it.

  18. Tim Dunn Diamond

    I believe Cathay's intent w/ foreign bases was to be able to recruit foreign pilots to supplement their local labor force. As the airline shrinks, they need fewer pilots and the cost for foreign pilots is undoubtedly the same if not higher.
    Also, crews have to roundtrip whether the trip starts in HKG or the US so it doesn't matter where crews are based on terms of coverage.

  19. JJ Guest

    Does American Airlines have a Hong Kong based pilot crew?

    1. Jake Guest

      No US airline has foreign bases. They're amongst the worst when it comes to be global citizens.

  20. globetrotter Guest

    HK and Singapore used to have the two most competitive economies in Asia, absence of corruption and bribery until the protests broke out in 2019. I was fortunate to visit HK and flew Cathay Pacific in business class from LAX to HKG. Those protesters should take all the blames for the downfall of HK. Imagine that all the world's biggest, richest and most powerful multi-national corporations have to bow to Chinese government by giving up...

    HK and Singapore used to have the two most competitive economies in Asia, absence of corruption and bribery until the protests broke out in 2019. I was fortunate to visit HK and flew Cathay Pacific in business class from LAX to HKG. Those protesters should take all the blames for the downfall of HK. Imagine that all the world's biggest, richest and most powerful multi-national corporations have to bow to Chinese government by giving up their autonomy and somewhat trade secrets to do business in China. Even the global countries are impacted by China's powerful tentacles . Who are they to think that protests would modify Chinese government's authority and behavior?

    1. Ty Guest

      Wow you're seriously judging local people for trying to fight for their personal rights? The downfall of Hong Kong isn't because businesses fear protesters, it's because of China's governmental overreach. The protesters just made the world aware of it. Therefore the downfall of Hong Kong is 100% China's fault.

    2. Frank B Member

      You would have been a load of fun in 1776. Who are those pesky colonists to think they should protest just because the British are raising their taxes without letting them have any say? Does any one of them think King George would modify his authority and behavior?

    3. Kyle Guest

      This is maybe-- no, nevermind. This IS the worst take on global affairs I have ever seen. The young people in the streets of HK started reacting after CCP provocation to strip their rights. All China had to do was maintain the current order, as they agreed to do previously, and HK would still be what it was minus COVID recovery. The CCP didn't, and who besides you and Xi can blame a 23 year...

      This is maybe-- no, nevermind. This IS the worst take on global affairs I have ever seen. The young people in the streets of HK started reacting after CCP provocation to strip their rights. All China had to do was maintain the current order, as they agreed to do previously, and HK would still be what it was minus COVID recovery. The CCP didn't, and who besides you and Xi can blame a 23 year old whose future was suddenly very murky for destroying a major economy.

      Should we also blame the individual slaves of the American South for starting the Civil War?

  21. Todd Guest

    I doubt I'll ever fly CX again, let alone go to Hong Kong as a destination. So sad to see it falling off the stage as one of the world's best cities.

    1. Super VC10 Guest

      I feel the same way. I used to love Hong Kong, and flew there regularly as a flight attendant for Flying Tigers and later, Northwest. I was also fortunate to deadhead numerous times on Cathay Pacific. But with China's firm grip on Hong Kong's throat, I don't see myself ever returning to what used to be one of my favorite cities.

    2. Never In Doubt Guest

      Why?

      Because once COVID nonsense ends, it’ll be the same experience for visitors as it was in 2019,

    3. Sarah Guest

      Many free people have no desire to support or enrich commies. HK is not the same as it once was.

    4. Jake Guest

      I connected through HKG on CX a month ago and the service was as usual top-notch and the plane spotlessly clean.

      Unlike US airlines they did not waste taxpayer money on executive compensation while turning flying into hell (and now a cesspool of germs).

  22. John T Guest

    Wait, did Danny Lee leave South China Morning Post??

    1. Mark Guest

      Yes. https://talkingbiznews.com/media-news/south-china-morning-post-reporter-lee-leaves/

    2. Max Guest

      You write about what happened to the expat pilots at SQ.

  23. Rafael_A New Member

    Boicot to Cathay.

  24. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

    I feel like an article should be written about how although OneWorld has been aggressive in growing, it's also had 5 or so of it's members leave, be suspended, and had many other issues over the recent years. From LATAM being poached, to S7 being banished, to Malaysia having bad plane issues, and Sri Lankan protests, and Cathay Pacific being stified by the local government. I'm a OneWorld Emerald and it just seems like we've...

    I feel like an article should be written about how although OneWorld has been aggressive in growing, it's also had 5 or so of it's members leave, be suspended, and had many other issues over the recent years. From LATAM being poached, to S7 being banished, to Malaysia having bad plane issues, and Sri Lankan protests, and Cathay Pacific being stified by the local government. I'm a OneWorld Emerald and it just seems like we've taken lots of hits as on recently, especially in Asia as a whole. This could be done for the other Alliances as well.

  25. wpr8e Guest

    I think it's safe to say that all non HK residents that signed up with CX knew this was always a possibility. Historically, many of the Asian carriers, KE, SQ, JL, etc., hired foreign born pilots as they couldn't staff them with locals. As their economies grew and the emphasis on staffing changed, most of these non local pilots got the boot first when things got rough, regardless of seniority.

    It's the choice you make,...

    I think it's safe to say that all non HK residents that signed up with CX knew this was always a possibility. Historically, many of the Asian carriers, KE, SQ, JL, etc., hired foreign born pilots as they couldn't staff them with locals. As their economies grew and the emphasis on staffing changed, most of these non local pilots got the boot first when things got rough, regardless of seniority.

    It's the choice you make, and they knew full well (or they should have), that they would either be made redundant, or be asked to be based in HKG.

    I supposed they might be able to commute to HKG, but I'm not sure that's a great option for every pilot.

  26. Syd Guest

    Unfortunately, just about anything about Hong Kong is sad these days, Cathay Pacific no exception...

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Lune Gold

Short answer: union rules (I don't mean that as an insult to unions). Pilots within an airline also generally support this rule. It's a classic tragedy of the commons. Those AA pilots who currently fly 777s sure as heck don't want a bunch of former Cathay pilots now bumping them down to 737s. It boils down to security: once you join an airline, you have a seniority number and it pretty much never changes. New hires, no matter what their previous experience, will always come in behind you. No one will ever come in ahead of you. That means you can plan your career more stably without having to worry about what's happening at other airlines (if an airline suddenly goes bankrupt and a bunch of senior pilots jump in ahead of you) or the economy in general. Heck, imagine if the 777 pilots at AA bargained hard and got an awesome contract, much better than Cathay, and then all of a sudden, all those Cathay pilots jumped in to take advantage of the new contract you fought for? If you're an AA pilot, what incentive do you have to negotiate a better contract if it means pilots from competing airlines will jump ship and push you off your plane? The only decision you have to make for your longterm career is picking your airline carefully when you're a junior. And there's the rub: if you pick wrong, you could end up like these Cathay pilots. But if you pick right, you'll have a long, secure, easily predictable career without having to worry about the rest of the industry. It seems that most pilots have chosen this type of setup vs. some sort of global seniority list (even one limited to just ALPA members) where you can never be sure of where you stand in your airline.

5
Ty Guest

Wow you're seriously judging local people for trying to fight for their personal rights? The downfall of Hong Kong isn't because businesses fear protesters, it's because of China's governmental overreach. The protesters just made the world aware of it. Therefore the downfall of Hong Kong is 100% China's fault.

5
Syd Guest

Unfortunately, just about anything about Hong Kong is sad these days, Cathay Pacific no exception...

4
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