Cathay offers pilots up to $127,000 allowances to stem exodus

The changes depend on pilot ranking and come on top of base salaries and hourly flying rates. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Cathay Pacific Airways will alter monthly allowances and other perks for pilots, to as much as HK$732,000 (S$127,000), as it tries to stem a wave of resignations among crew frustrated by the impact of Hong Kong's Covid-19 policies on their lives.

The changes depend on pilot ranking and come on top of base salaries and hourly flying rates. From next year, the most senior captains will get a monthly allowance of HK$36,000, amounting to HK$432,000 annually, up from HK$396,000 now, according to a memo to staff seen by Bloomberg News.

Cathay is also allotting HK$100,000 per child for annual school fees, for up to three children, according to the memo sent on Wednesday (April 20). That applies for schools in Hong Kong and overseas and represents a HK$40,000 and HK$20,000 increase for second and first officers, respectively, but no change for captains.

Covid has hit Cathay harder than most airlines as Hong Kong adopted a virus containment strategy that has all-but dried up travel in and out of the city. While other carriers, including regional rival Singapore Airlines, rebuild their networks as travel restrictions are lifted, Cathay remains stuck in a straitjacket operating at only about 2 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger capacity.

The crisis has led to record losses for the airline, prompting it to cut thousands of jobs, lower wages and enforce unpaid leave. The number of Cathay flight staff earning more than HK$1 million a year is at the lowest in more than a decade.

The impact on operations has weighed heavily on morale, with pilots and crew forced into long spells of quarantine and operating on so-called closed-loop shifts that keep them away from home for weeks. While still well compensated, the role of Cathay pilot is not quite as glamorous and alluring as it used to be.

"This is a significant investment on our pilots at this time," a Cathay spokesman said in a statement.

Hourly flight pay, which varies for Airbus and Boeing pilots, is paid on top of the base salary after flying a minimum number of hours per month. A Cathay Boeing 777 pilot needs to fly 49 hours a month to start earning the hourly flight pay, which is not possible now with the bulk of the fleet grounded due to the pandemic.

The airline laid off, furloughed and offered early retirement to thousands of staff to limit losses during the Covid-19 crisis.

At the end of last year, Cathay employed 16,721 people, the least since 2005.

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