Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. will cut about 5,300 jobs based in Hong Kong and and close its Cathay Dragon unit as part of a sweeping restructuring of the city’s flag carrier triggered by the hit to air travel from the coronavirus pandemic.
Another 600 Cathay workers outside of Hong Kong may also be affected, and 2,600 currently unfilled positions will be eliminated. The entire reductions of some 8,500 jobs amount to around 24% of Cathay’s headcount, one of the largest hits in aviation globally since the outbreak started.
“The future remains highly uncertain and it is clear that recovery is slow,” Cathay said in Wednesday’s statement. “The management team has concluded that the most optimistic scenario it can responsibly adopt is one in which, for the year 2021, the company will be operating at well under 50% of the passenger capacity it operated in 2019.”
Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on aviation. As many as 46 million jobs are at risk, and airlines alone face about $420 billion in lost revenue this year. Carriers with no domestic market to fall back on, like Cathay and Singapore Airlines Ltd., have been hit especially hard as international travel has ground to a halt. Cathay’s job cuts are among the most severe in the industry, outnumbered by only a handful of others such as Lufthansa and the two big U.S. carriers, American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc.
Cathay’s restructuring is aimed at reducing its monthly cash burn to about HK$500 million ($65 million) from the current HK$1.5 billion to HK$2 billion, the carrier said in Wednesday’s statement. The plan has been approved by the airline’s board and will cost about HK$2.2 billion.
The Hong Kong-based airline also said Dragon’s operations will cease from Wednesday; regulatory approval will be sought for the majority of its routes to be operated by Cathay and Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd.
Closing down Dragon is reasonable given Cathay is facing problems in the mainland market, Luya You, a transportation analyst with Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong, said on Bloomberg Television.
“It is possible that there will be more cuts and more pain in the year ahead,” You said. “Cathay’s forecast moving forward is very optimistic. Any deviation from that scenario does mean there will be more cuts.”
Cathay had already raised HK$39 billion through a recapitalization plan earlier this year, which gave the Hong Kong government a 6.08% stake in the company, and deferred delivery of aircraft to save funds.
The South China Morning Post reported late yesterday Cathay would eliminate 6,000 positions.
Executive pay cuts will continue into 2021 and a third voluntary leave plan for ground staff will be introduced in the first half of next year, Cathay said. There will be no salary increases for 2021 and annual bonuses for this year. Cathay’s cabin and cockpit crew that are based in Hong Kong will be asked to agree to changes in their conditions of service that will match remuneration more closely to productivity and enhance market competitiveness.
“We have taken every possible action to avoid job losses up to this point,” Augustus Tang, chief executive officer of Cathay, said in a separate statement. “The global pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on aviation and the hard truth is we must fundamentally restructure the group to survive.”
Cathay expects to see a gradual recovery in capacity in the second half of next year after operating below a quarter of its capacity in the first half, should vaccines currently under development prove to be effective and are successfully available to the mass, the company said. It will monitor the situation and adopt measures to survive the pandemic, it said. The International Air Transport Association has said that travel won’t return to levels seen before the pandemic until 2024.
The company was struggling with losses before the pandemic as anti-government protests in Hong Kong led to a sharp reduction in traffic last year and a change in management. When Covid-19 happened, it put the airline into a survival mode by cutting capacity and offering voluntary no-pay leaves to staff to survive in a challenging environment.
Cathay Dragon operated mainly narrow-body aircraft such as Airbus SE A320s and A321s to destinations across Asia and more than 20 mainland Chinese cities, including the lucrative Beijing and Shanghai routes. The carrier had a fleet of 48 aircraft as of June 30 and firm orders for 16 Airbus A321neo jets, according to Cathay’s website.
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