Cathay Pacific has fired three cargo pilots who contracted COVID-19 on a layover in Frankfurt, Germany after an investigation found they broke crew regulations during the overseas trip.
Hong Kong, where Cathay Pacific is based, has some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions worldwide to keep the virus under control.
After the three cargo pilots were found to be infected, a further 130 Cathay Pacific pilots who had stayed at the same hotel since November 1, 2021 were ordered by the Hong Kong executive to undergo a 21 day quarantine.
“After investigation into these cases, regrettably, the findings indicate a serious breach of requirements during crew overseas layovers,” Cathay Pacific said in a media statement on November 18, 2021. “The individuals concerned are no longer employed by Cathay Pacific.”
During layovers, crew must travel directly from the aircraft to their hotel and are instructed to self-isolate in their hotel rooms.
Cathay said it believed the cases were isolated incidents and has asked the government to free its other pilots from quarantine.
“As a result of these findings, we have requested the government to review the decision to place certain groups into government quarantine,” the airline said.
Since the cases came to light, Cathay has stepped up its monitoring of crews on overseas trips and has introduced new measures for when they arrive back into Hong Kong. The airline also said flight crews will need a third vaccine dose.
“Cathay Pacific’s priority is always the health and wellbeing of its customers, people and the community, and we recognise the concerns that have arisen following the recent confirmed COVID-19 cases involving three of our freighter pilots returning from Frankfurt,” the carrier added.
The government Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) also issued a statement on November 18 over the incident.
“The THB is deeply regretful of and can hardly accept the concerned cargo crew’s non-compliance with the requirements of closed-loop operation during their layover at the outport concerned. Though noting that these are individual cases, considering the severity of the incident, the THB has already directed Cathay Pacific to follow up on the matter seriously and to make the best endeavours in preventing the occurrence of similar incidents.”
The case has also raised concerns over how Hong Kong will be able to maintain supplies to the city if so many pilots keep having to quarantine. The regulations have already prompted FedEx to close its crew base in Hong Kong and Cathay has also said it is looking at basing crews overseas temporarily.
The THB said it will “continue to maintain close communication with the industry with a view to maintaining smooth air cargo services into and out of Hong Kong while safeguarding public health, so that the normal operation of Hong Kong’s economy and in turn the global supply chain can be maintained”.