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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cathay Flights Hit by Pilot Sick-Out

HONG KONG -- An escalating sickout by pilots forced Cathay Pacific Airways to cancel more flights Monday, as neither the company nor its pilots appeared willing to reopen negotiations on proposed pay cuts.

Government officials expressed concern as the disruption entered its fourth day.

Esther Lam, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, said labor officials were trying to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.

Wong Po-yan, chairman of the Airport Authority, which runs Chek Lap Kok airport, told a news briefing the disruption has hurt the airport's income and "damaged its international image.'' John Findlay, secretary-general for the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, said Monday afternoon that no progress had been made.

The two sides have been locked in a dispute since Cathay asked its senior pilots in March to take an 8-percent pay cut in exchange for stock options.

Cathay last week abruptly pulled out of talks after nine weeks and gave its pilots a June 11 deadline to decide whether to accept a revised pay offer, including a smaller pay cut and better stock options, resign or be fired.

The Hong Kong carrier said the pilots' counter offer, which includes annual pay increases after two years of cuts and a year of pay freeze, was unacceptable, and that it would not reopen talks until the pilots agree to forgo the guaranteed pay raises.

Pilots have been calling in sick en masse since Friday, claiming they are under too much stress because of the layoff threats. Union officials denied they had organized the strike, saying Hong Kong law allows pilots to stay home due to stress.

Cathay has canceled a total of 103 flights since Friday - including 33 on Monday - affecting more than 10,000 passengers. About 400 were forced to stay in hotels Sunday night after their flights were canceled.

Tony Tyler, Cathay's director of corporate development, told government-owned Radio Hong Kong that the "situation has stabilized'' as more planes from associated airlines were flying in to help transport Cathay passengers.

The four-day flight disruption has had an immediate impact on Cathay and on Hong Kong's tourism industry, which is recovering from a lull due to Asia's financial crisis. Many passengers have expressed frustration at the chaos.

"Hong Kong could not afford to have its flag-carrier airline turning passengers away,'' a statement from the semi-official Hong Kong Tourist Association said.

Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, representing the tourism industry, said it has received numerous inquiries - but no complaints - from tour operators and tourists.

"If the situation drags on until the peak season [starting in late June], we do have worries,'' because of Cathay's prominence here, he said. Cathay makes a third of flights in Hong Kong.