LONDON – In a survey taken out by The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers’ Association (HKAOA), nearly half of pilots at mainland carrier Cathay Pacific expressed discontent for the airline’s current financial conditions.

Out of the 1,608 respondents in the survey, almost eight in 10 of them doubted that the airline could even become competitive again due to its heavy losses.

Amid fierce competition from mainland Chinese airlines, Cathay Pacific has failed to generate a profit.

2017 saw the carrier report a loss of HK$1,259 million, a hefty increase of 32% compared to 2016 with an HK$575 million loss.

Cathay Pacific blames the current overcapacity in the Asia-Pacific region, which adds a continues pressure on yields in its route network.

The first six months of 2018 has seen the airline provide a loss of HK$263 million, which is expected to rise towards the end of the year.

Photo: Clement Alloing

About 43% of the respondents said that they were currently looking for employment with other carriers, or intend to start looking in the next 12 months.

Up to 2,300 out of the 3,300 pilots in Cathay’s workforce are unionized.

“Our internal polling has demonstrated in a very dramatic way the unhappiness the pilots currently have with Cathay Pacific. The dissatisfaction manifests itself by attrition,” said Chris Beebe, the General Secretary of HKAOA. 

When approaching Cathay Pacific, the airline’s Operations Director, Chris Kempis, said that “Turnover is not an issue to date, nor do we expect it to be.”

The airline also had a 3.5% turnover rate, which even with those expressing the desire to leave, Kempis believes is well “within our expectations.”

PHOTO: Airbus

Cathay Pacific also added that around 130 pilots are to leave this year due to retirements and potential resignations.

The airline has already completed a recruitment drive for 150 new pilots in the first six months of the year, however.

HKAOA also predicted that around 160 pilots would actually leave, representing 5% of the airline’s total cockpit crews.

One of the issues that Cathay is currently fighting with the HKAOA is housing for the airline’s staff.

Housing allowances to its pilots cost the airline around HK$900 million a year. Those that are on the older contracts are expected to see their allowances cut.

It has been reported among local media that some pilots are already being interviewed by the likes of Qantas, who is also after pilots given its recent expansion with the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

The Hong Kong-based airline aims to trim costs down by HK$4 billion by 2019, with HK$1 billion of that being cut from pilot costs.

However, if the airline wants to stay away from a staff shortage situation, it will have to find a way to make sure that the overall sentiment of happiness among pilots increases. This starts with the carrier hopefully making promises about job security and profitability in the short-term.