Cathay Pacific hiring more local pilots despite travel slump

FILE PHOTO: A Cathay Pacific Airways passenger flight takes off at Hong Kong Airport

By Jamie Freed

(Reuters) -Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd has resumed recruiting pilots with residency rights in the territory as part of medium- to long-term planning, the airline said on Tuesday, despite having much of its fleet parked due to the pandemic.

The move, which came just weeks after Cathay said it would close a pilot base in Canada and hours before the airline on Tuesday evening said it would proceed with plans to shut its pilot bases in Australia, points to a move away from a long-term strategy of employing many expatriates.

Last year Cathay closed its regional arm Cathay Dragon, putting hundreds of pilots out of work, many of them citizens and permanent residents in Hong Kong.

“While we are still not seeing immediate, meaningful signs of growth, the recruitment we are conducting at this stage is about forward planning,” Cathay said in a statement.

“We will be looking to hire qualified talent who are already in Hong Kong and have the right to live and work here.”

Expatriates can gain permanent residency after seven years in Hong Kong.

Cathay pilots with temporary work visas have received shorter than usual renewals since the closure of Cathay Dragon, said two sources who were not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

The airline said it had supported each application for visa renewal and was actively following up on their status with the Hong Kong Immigration Department.

Most airlines only hire locals and permanent residents, but Cathay, like many of the large Middle Eastern carriers, has typically relied heavily on foreign pilots.

However, last year Cathay made its Hong Kong-based pilots agree to permanent pay cuts to keep their jobs, making living in the expensive city a less attractive proposition.

The airline, which lacks a domestic market at a time when international borders are largely shut, reported a fall of 99.3% in April passenger numbers, compared with pre-pandemic levels in April 2019.

The new pilot recruitment drive, including online advertisements for first and second officers, was first reported by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

($1=7.7594 Hong Kong dollars)

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in SydneyEditing by Clarence Fernandez and David Holmes)