On SAF, Sustainability, and Safety

Cathay made the headlines thrice this week: the signing of an MoU with Singapore Airlines, outlining collaboration on sustainability initiatives; the launch of direct passenger flights to Riyadh, complementing its existing weekly freighter services; and lastly, a worrying development regarding repeated safety incidents amongst its trainee pilots.

But first to the positive: In the spirit of ‘greener together’, Cathay and Singapore Airlines used the backdrop of last week’s International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Dubai, UAE, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The signatories, represented by Cathay Group CEO, Ronald Lam, and Singapore Airlines CEO, Goh Choon Phong, agreed to collaborate on a number of sustainability initiatives, including advocating for the development and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the Asia-Pacific region, and sharing best practices to boost sustainability performance.

Turbulence in pilot training. Image: Cathay Group

Aiming for net zero by 2050
Ronald Lam, Chief Executive Officer, Cathay Group, stated: “As part of our collaborative ethos of ‘Greener Together’, we actively seek like-minded industry leaders for strategic partnerships in transitioning to sustainable aviation. Our collaboration with Singapore Airlines aims to accelerate and support the development of the SAF supply chain in the region, fostering a reliable SAF ecosystem to enable the industry to achieve its long-term decarbonisation goals. Cathay was one of the first airlines in Asia to set a target of 10% SAF for its total fuel consumption by 2030, and we are undertaking a multi-pronged approach to contribute to the aviation industry’s transition towards a greener future.”
SAF is one of two core areas in which the two airlines will work together. Both have already been independently active in sourcing providers and pushing for its use. They will now jointly advocate for the greater use of SAF in the Asia-Pacific region. This includes educating the public on the critical need for SAF if aviation is to decarbonise and reach its 2050 goals. Together, they will advocate for supportive policies and global standards in emissions accounting and reporting, and seek joint procurement opportunities.

Pushing for a reduction in all kinds of waste
The second area of focus will be the exchange of best practices to reduce single-use plastics, minimise waste, and improve energy efficiency in ground and cargo operations. The aim is to improve sustainability performance and accelerate the development and implementation of sustainable solutions. Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Airlines, said: “Singapore Airlines is committed to embedding sustainability in all aspects of our operations. At the same time, we recognise that we cannot achieve our targets alone. Our partnership with Cathay signifies our mutual ambition to enhance collaboration in sustainability initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. Together we are helping to set the foundation for a more sustainable aviation industry, and ensure that future generations continue to reap the benefits of air travel.”

Connecting Hong Kong and Riyadh
On 06JUN24, Cathay Pacific announced the launch of thrice-weekly, direct passenger flights between Hong Kong and Riyadh, operated by Airbus A350-900 aircraft, starting with the winder schedule on 28OCT24. The bellies on these flights will complement its existing weekly freighter flight and provide greater capacity to customer in the countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. At the signing ceremony in Hong Kong, attended by top government and airline management officials, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung said: “The signing of the cooperation agreement marks a significant milestone for the already prospering aviation partnership between Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia developed for almost two decades. […] The Hong Kong SAR Government is committed to strengthening aviation services on current major routes and routes along the Belt and Road with potential. Following Cathay Pacific’s initiative to commence services to Riyadh, we will be able to expand Hong Kong’s aviation network and enhance air connectivity between us and the Middle East, which further consolidates Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub.”

Pilot training suspension
Several media outlets, including Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post drew attention to a worrying development at U.S. pilot school in Phoenix, Arizona, this week. AeroGuard Flight Training Center has a five-year contract with Cathay since 2022, to train its future pilots in 10-month programs. At the time, the plan was to recruit and train 800 new junior pilots by 2025. Currently, around 250-300 are in training. The school took the decision, last week, to ground solo flights for all Cathay cadets, following a sequence of serious safety incidents, including a wingtip collision with a fixed object, a bounced landing leading to a substantial prop strike on the runway, and a complete runway excursion. Aside from the expensive damage to aircraft, a more worrying aspect is that the trainees failed to properly report the incidents, thus going against normal protocol. Safety first also means documenting every incident in order to learn and improve from it. AeroGuard referred to “an alarming increase in solo incidents during cadet training” in a memo to its trainees, informing them of the solo flight grounding.

Pilots needed in large numbers
In a published statement, Cathay acknowledged the cases and was looking into them, supporting the school’s decision: “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.”
The airline, which lost and let go of many pilots during the pandemic, is facing a large struggle to ensure enough pilots in the industry’s fastest growing region. CAPA’s Centre for Aviation predicted in DEC23, that around 252,000 new pilots will be required, globally, in the next ten years. Of these, 91,000 will be needed in Asia Pacific (85,000 in Americas, 44,000 in Europe, 28,000 in Middle East, and 3,000 for Africa).

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