Crew shortage takes toll

Top News | AFP and Staff Reporter 26 Nov 2021

Cathay Pacific will slash one third of its inbound flights to Hong Kong under its "closed-loop management" system next month and convert them to cargo, the flagship airline has announced.

About 600 outbound flights will not be affected.

This came as the SAR's strict travel curbs continue to keep international travelers away at a time when rivals are seeing their prospects improve.

Hong Kong has maintained some of the world's harshest pandemic quarantine measures and travel restrictions, which has kept infections low but means it has been cut off internationally for the past 20 months.

The SAR has tied its fortunes to China's strict coronavirus strategy and said normalization of travel with the mainland must come before any reopening to the rest of the world.

Cathay said yesterday it was canceling a number of flights to Hong Kong next month, blaming "operational and travel restrictions that remain in place continuing to constrain its ability to operate flights as planned."

As the peak holiday season approaches, the airline will convert around one-third of "closed-loop" inbound passenger flights for Hong Kong to handle cargo.

"As the home carrier of Hong Kong, we are fully committed to protecting and enhancing Hong Kong's aviation hub status and to keeping the flow of people and cargo between Hong Kong and the rest of the world moving despite the challenging circumstances presented by the pandemic," it said.

Cathay is especially vulnerable to the pandemic as it has no domestic market and is based in a hub that has embraced China's "zero-Covid" plan.

In contrast, Singapore Airlines is seeing flights and passenger numbers pick up as the Lion City begins reopening and switching to learning to live with the virus.

Last week SAR officials ordered more than 100 Cathay cargo crew into mandatory quarantine after three of their colleagues who stayed at the same layover hotel in Germany tested positive on return.

The three were fired after a company probe found an unspecified "serious breach" of requirements. Most cargo crew were later released from quarantine.

Cathay is relying on volunteer staff to fly in and out of Hong Kong as it faces a manpower crunch.

Bosses have implemented a "closed loop" operation whereby cabin crew and pilots work three-week shifts, during which they are confined to hotel rooms between flights.

When their shift has finished and they return home, they must quarantine for another two weeks.

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