Cathay says tighter crew curbs would hit supplies into Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific Airways is Asia's biggest cargo carrier. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) Cathay Pacific Airways expressed concern that a possible move by Hong Kong to restrict aircrew operating cargo flights could reduce the number of available employees and disrupt the supply chain of goods moving in and out of the financial hub.

The airline, Asia's biggest cargo carrier, has been operating a full freighter schedule and a significant number of cargo services on passenger aircraft to ensure supply chains remain intact, it said in a statement Thursday.

That is in contrast to passenger operations, which remain subdued due to existing coronavirus travel restrictions. "Tightening the travel restrictions for aircrew operating cargo services would significantly impede our ability to continue to mount these important flights," according to the statement.

"This would seriously disrupt the supply chain and the flow of goods into and out of Hong Kong."

Hong Kong may restrict movement of local aircrew who are exempted from quarantine for several weeks after two Cathay pilots of cargo flights tested positive for Covid-19, the South China Morning Post reported earlier, without citing the source of the information.

The latest infection could challenge the city's Covid-Zero policy and its efforts to reopen its border with mainland China.

As one of the world's top cargo airlines, Cathay moves an array of goods globally, from mobile devices to garments and fresh fruit and vegetables. It had 34 freighters in its fleet at the end of June.

The airline has been operating on a so-called closed loop that calls for crew members to isolate at a hotel whenever they return to Hong Kong during their 21-day duty cycle.

Once the three-week shift is over, they must self isolate for 14 days and then they have 14 days off. Cathay's passenger operations remain depressed because of the strict travel rules in Hong Kong, which can include mandatory quarantine at a facility for as long as 21 days.

The carrier is only expecting to operate about 13 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 capacity for the rest of the year, even lower than earlier expectations of as much as 30 per cent.

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