Cathay Pacific is asking all of its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave over the coming months, the company’s CEO told staff on Wednesday, as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier reels from the devastating impact of the deadly coronavirus on air travel.
“I am appealing to each and everyone one of you to help,” said Augustus Tang Kin-wing in a taped video recording, adding the situation the company faced was “just as grave” as the global financial crisis of 2009.
“Preserving our cash is now key to protecting our business,” he said.
The airline is asking staff to take leave on a voluntary basis between March and June.
On Tuesday, the airline unveiled massive cuts to flying schedules – 30 per cent worldwide for two months, including a 90 per cent cut in capacity to mainland China.
The last time the airline implemented its so-called special leave scheme was in 2009, and it was 2003, during the Sars outbreak, that the airline last made extensive cuts to its flight operations. It grounded 22 planes and cut capacity by 45 per cent at the time.
In Wednesday’s video, CEO Tang said the recent Lunar New Year holiday, normally one of the most profitable times of year for the airline, was “one of the most difficult … we have ever had.”
He acknowledged a “large decline in the number of visitors” to and through Hong Kong, mainland China, and many other countries around the world.
“We don’t know how long this will last,” said Tang, who has only been in the top job since August.
The airline has already sought price reductions from suppliers, frozen hiring, postponed major projects and stopped all non-critical spending, as part of an earlier package of measures to cope with the impact of months of anti-government protests.