As continuing political tensions in Hong Kong prompt struggling Hong Kong Airlines to cut capacity, the airline has offered surplus contract pilots voluntary leave without obligation to repay salary advances and training costs.

Having already dropped its Cairns, Gold Coast, Auckland, and Fuzhou routes and scaled back daily Vancouver service to three times weekly, the airline gave an option to the first batch of foreign pilots left idle to leave and return to their home countries, AINonline reported.

According to a Hong Kong Airlines flight operations official in Hong Kong, the pilots came mainly from Europe and a smaller number from Southeast Asia.

The official said that plans to scrap the daily Airbus A350-900 San Francisco flight on October 5 and reduce the daily Los Angeles flight to five weekly services later this month will result in a significant number of pilots operating one or two flights a month or even left idle.

San Francisco has proved a particularly problematic market with Cathay Pacific operating three daily flights using a mix of Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A350s, United Airlines operating a daily service using Boeing 777-300s and planning to double the service later this month, and Singapore Airlines offering a daily flight in a 777-300ER.

The official noted that HKA started feeling the effect of the fierce competition on routes to North America and Australia in November 2018.

“As the strength of the protests in Hong Kong that started in May gained momentum, market demand [further] weakened,” the official said.

Now HKA is now contemplating a formal voluntary separation scheme (VSS) to pilots, flight attendants, and other staff over the next two months, the report said.

Hong Kong Airlines is feeling the effects of fierce competition on routes to North America and Australia. Credit: Youtube.

In June, parent company Haikou-based HNA Group turned down a proposal by HKA to send surplus pilots on secondment to Beijing Capital Airlines. HNA holds a majority stake of 45% in HKA while several people control the rest.

HKA plans to reduce the current fleet of 39 aircraft to 28 by the first quarter of 2020. The fleet consists of six Airbus A350-900s, 10 A330-300s,11 A330-200s, and 12 A320s. The airline’s network of 39 destinations includes 15 in mainland China. HKA started operations in 2006.

The official acknowledged that the outlook appears gloomy for HKA. “It would not be a surprise should HKA be reduced to a regional carrier due to the highly competitive market,” he pointed out.