Hong Kong’s tough COVID-19 restrictions are forcing major global companies FedEx and Cathay Pacific to rethink their crewing arrangements.

US logistics group FedEx moved its pilots out of Hong Kong in January. A South China Morning Post article, published on November 17, 2021, cited a memo from FedEx saying that the January decision was now permanent. 

“The decision to close the Hong Kong base reflects this constant evolution and is designed to provide a measure of stability to these team members as there is no clear timeline when life may return to normal in Hong Kong,” the memo from chief pilot Robin Sebasco said. 

The shipping giant told AeroTime in a statement: “As the global business environment continues to evolve, and with the pandemic requirements in Hong Kong, FedEx has made the decision to close its Hong Kong crew base and relocate its pilots.”

The statement added that Fedex will “continue to maintain its operations in Hong Kong, which are vital to our Asia-Pacific and global network.” The company said the decision will not impact any FedEx routings or its service to customers in the region. 

 

Hong Kong Quarantine

Hong Kong has some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions, with most travelers having to quarantine for up to three weeks in a hotel at their own expense upon arrival. However, some controversial exceptions have been made, including for JPMorgan Chief executive Jamie Dimon.  

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Air crew, meanwhile, are also subject to isolation and testing requirements. If they do not plan to enter the local community, air crew are confined to an airport hotel until their next duty flight.  

Tougher restrictions can be imposed at short notice, however. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lim on November 16, 2021, announced that 130 Cathay Pacific pilots would have to undergo 21 days of quarantine. 

The move was imposed after three cargo pilots tested positive for COVID-19 following a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. All crew who stayed at the same hotel on or after November 1, 2021, are subject to quarantine.  

Lam was cited by local media as saying during the press briefing on November 16, 2021, that the quarantine could lead to a lack of cargo pilots and affect the city’s supply chains.

“If there were one or two more of these cases, our cargo planes will probably be left with no more pilots operating them,” Lam was quoted as saying. 

 

Cathay Pacific to move crews too? 

Cathay Pacific announced on November 12, 2021, after the latest cases emerged, that it would be requiring flight crews to have a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It plans to increase checks on flight crew during layovers and has issued new guidance to crews to minimise COVID-19 risks upon their arrival in Hong Kong. 

The carrier confirmed in a statement to AeroTime on November 17, 2021, that it is also considering asking crews to live abroad for several months. 

“We are exploring options and seeking expressions of interest from pilots to participate in temporary extended roster patterns which involve a series of duties from outside of Hong Kong,” Cathay Pacific said in an emailed statement.  

“After an initial operation from Hong Kong, there will be an extended period of duties originating outside of HKG and lasting between 2 and 4 months,” the airline explained.

The airline added that it was working hard to maintain its cargo network as best as possible. 

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UPDATED with FedEx statement