(Bloomberg) -- Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. pilot’s union has called for a government inquiry into the Hong Kong carrier’s handling of mass flight cancellations, laying the blame for the current woes at steep job cuts made during the height of the pandemic.   

“Any such review must examine the root of Cathay’s problems, which lie in the decisions made by management in 2020,” Paul Weatherilt, chairman of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, said in a statement Tuesday. “Hong Kong aviation will continue to suffer until there is an acknowledgment of these mistakes and a change in leadership, particularly among those responsible for overseeing flight operations.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said he’s very concerned by the cancellations as flight capacity is important to the city’s role as a transportation hub. The airline has cancelled 200 flights since Christmas Eve, originally citing higher-than-normal rates of pilot illness. 

The government will be communicating with the industry about rebuilding capacity, Lee said at a briefing on Tuesday. 

“I understand that because of Covid, there are challenges we need to overcome,” he said. “The transport and logistics bureau will be in touch with the management of Cathay Pacific to indicate our goals and see how we can work together to ensure the best services are provided to passengers.”

Transport Secretary Lam Sai-hung also expressed great concern to Cathay’s senior executives about the flight cancellations in a Facebook post Monday. He asked the airline to update affected passengers as soon as possible and provide assistance, such as rebooking flights or transferring travelers to other airlines, to minimize any damage. 

The Civil Aviation Department met with Cathay’s management on Tuesday and requested the company submit a report by the end of the month to explain the cause of the incident and its approach to handling flight arrangements in order to prevent similar incidents occurring again, the government said in a statement.

The airline apologized, saying it understood the concerns and would make the “appropriate” arrangements for affected customers. 

“We have learned from this experience and have made necessary improvements to ensure future operational stability,” the company said in a statement.

Cathay said Sunday it was scrubbing around 12 flights a day through the end of February to avoid disruptions in the peak Lunar New Year travel period. The carrier has said a large part of the flight cuts stem from pilots hitting flying limits of 900 hours across a rolling 12-month period, Bloomberg News reported earlier.

The airline’s chronic shortage of pilots, at captain and first officer rank, comes after it eliminated thousands of jobs at the height of Covid and cut salaries of remaining workers by as much as 50%. Pilots on staff now stand at 2,532, according to data from the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, down 35% from the end of 2019. 

Scrubbing flights in the short term gives back pilots more hours to fly under the rolling cap, giving Cathay flexibility to deploy crews for its increased flight schedule during Lunar New Year, which runs from Feb. 10-17.

--With assistance from Linda Lew and Denise Wee.

(Updates to add in government statement in seventh paragraph.)

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