Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, whose passenger numbers and profit have been weighed down by the protracted protests in its home city, is still hiring new pilots and recruiting cadets for training in anticipation of a swift turnaround when it flies out of the social and political turbulence.
Cathay’s sound financial fundamentals as well as backing from its parent, the British conglomerate Swire Group, have been providing a crucial tailwind as the Hong Kong carrier, known for its wide-body jets and premium services, booked back-to-back dips in passenger and cargo traffic in August and September.
The company noted in its stock exchange filings that the Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year festive seasons in December and January 2020 may still be a bumper period for travel if the situation in Hong Kong continues to improve.
Tensions in Hong Kong have been showing signs of abating, with violent clashes and running battles between rioters and police largely gone after the city’s pro-establishment camp suffered a crushing rout in last month’s district council election.
Shoppers are gradually returning to malls and commercial precincts and the city’s airport is again seething with travelers. All this is good news for Cathay.
Chris Kempis, the carrier’s director of flight operations, told reporters that they had recruited 406 new pilots so far this year.
There have also been reports that Cathay has been luring pilots from its ailing rival Hong Kong Airlines, a subsidiary of Chinese aviation giant HNA, as the latter is desperate for a financial lifeline from its parent and mainland lenders to keep flying.
Cathay now offers “transfer opportunities” to some of Hong Kong Airlines’ cockpit crew to replace some of its own retiring staff, as the smaller carrier, which almost had its license revoked by the Hong Kong government earlier this month due to insufficient funds for operation, may have to slash its payroll amid the tepid business, according to the South China Morning Post and CAAC News.
Also, Cathay is set to entrench its monopoly of long-haul routes serving Europe and North America as Hong Kong Airlines is going to stop flying half-empty planes on these routes, with a total pullback out of the loss-making North American market after the Chinese New Year.
Cathay’s offer to take on pilots from its rival follows a takeover of budget carrier Hong Kong Express from HNA in July.
In the meantime, Cathay has also been trialing new technologies to shed costs, like “MyFlightWx,” a new digitalized weather information platform and mobile app jointly developed with the Hong Kong Observatory that can replace as much as 68 kilograms of papers and manuals from each plane to save fuel and promote paperless meteorological flight documentation.
Previously, cockpit crews had to carry onboard papers and documents as thick as a dozen dictionaries stacked together on each flight, but now they only need to bring an iPad, saving some 168,000 pieces of paper each week on all of Cathay’s flights.
“MyFlightWx,” the first of its kind across the industry, covers airport weather reports, aerodrome forecasts, hazardous weather warnings, as well as the global turbulence forecast.
On aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi, flight crews can keep themselves abreast of the latest weather conditions during the journey by downloading live data feeds via the mobile app and feed data collected by sensors on each plane back to the observatory for faster and more accurate forecasts, according to Cathay, whose flights as well as those operated by its subsidiary Cathay Dragon have now gone completely paperless.
Cathay now maintains a fleet of 153 wide-body jets and Cathay Dragon operates 48 planes.