Cathay Pacific trainee pilots have damaged so many planes a U.S. flying school has banned them from solo flights


A US pilot school has suspended all solo flights for Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. cadets after a number of training incidents that damaged planes and went unreported by the trainee aircrew.

Phoenix, Arizona-based AeroGuard Flight Training Center has told all Cathay cadets that “effective immediately, all solo flights are grounded” after AeroGuard saw “an alarming increase in solo incidents during cadet training,” according to a memo seen by Bloomberg News.

“These incidents were not minor — one wingtip collision with a fixed object, one bounced landing leading to a substantial prop strike on the runway and most recently, a complete runway excursion. While each situation was unique, in each case the concern was the same — required consultation did not occur” and in two of the three instances, “the students failed to properly report the damage.”

Cathay, in a response to Bloomberg, acknowledged the events took place and said it is taking them seriously. 

“These incidents involve our sponsored students, who will become our employees upon successful graduation from the training course. They will then need to undergo additional structured training before being assigned any flying duty,” Cathay said in a statement, adding that “safety guides every decision we make and we fully support the decision of the training school.”

AeroGuard Flight Training Center didn’t respond to a call seeking comment outside of normal US business hours.

The suspension of solo flights is a blow to Cathay at a time it’s trying to restock its depleted pilot ranks post Covid. Cathay, along with several other airlines, relies on AeroGuard to churn out hundreds of freshman pilots every year. 

The carrier’s pilot numbers fell sharply during the pandemic as Hong Kong shut its borders and introduced some of the world’s harshest isolation measures, forcing many people out of the city. Steep pay cuts also prompted many pilots to resign and Cathay’s business, which is a wholly international affair given Hong Kong has no domestic flights, still isn’t back to pre-Covid levels.

Cathay said in early 2022 that it plans to recruit and train 800 new junior pilots by 2025. One person familiar with the AeroGuard incident, who declined to be named because they’re not authorized to speak publicly, said there would have been around 150 Cathay cadets affected by the decision out of a total 250 to 300 Cathay cadets currently at the training school.

AeroGuard signed a five-year agreement with Cathay in 2022, giving the flight training school responsibility to train hundreds of future pilots in 10-month programs.

AeroGuard has said previously that it trains two types of pilots for Cathay — ones with no prior flying experience and others who are already aircrew but who need to convert their licenses to Hong Kong standards.

The US school also has training contracts with Air India Ltd., China Airlines Ltd. and regional US airline SkyWest Airlines Inc.

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