Friday, 2 September 2011


This is a most concerning book that every airline passenger should consider - but will be afraid to read. The contents should make anyone think twice before taking a seat on a commercial airliner and it certainly will force many passengers to be more discerning over their choice of carrier particularly if the culture exposed in the book is taking place elsewhere.

John Warham's account of the pressures his employer, Cathay Pacific Airways, had imposed on their pilots shows how absolutely deplorably the CX management behaved. The book clearly defines just how the 'number crunchers' dictated that commercial considerations should override flight safety issues and the welfare of Cathay's loyal employees and customers.

I was once proud to be a Cathay Pacific regular flyer's club Gold Card member during the period covered by the book. In fairness the airline looked after me superbly well but most passengers could not have known about what was really going on behind the scenes. I had been aware of the action taken by the cabin crews and later heard about the pilot dispute that ultimately led to the dismissal of the 49ers in 2001, but I never knew any of the details. Perhaps this was because at no time was I ever inconvenienced and the airline did a wonderful job of deliberately keeping their customers in the dark over the causes of the dispute, at least in the UK. I was invited on to the flight deck on several occasions but there was never any talk or indication of any pilot unrest and as far as I was aware, despite accusations from their management to the contrary, the pilots only ever demonstrated that they had the company's interests at heart. I only learnt about the reasons behind the pilots concerns in John Warham's book. As far as passengers were concerned - it was business as usual and Cathay Pacific certainly did a great job to paint a reputable picture of their airline to customers, although it seems from the evidence contained in this book, they were stretching the truth.

The total professionalism of the flight deck crews and the courtesy and high level of service that the cabin crews have, in my opinion, always extended towards their passengers, at least during the nine years that I travelled regularly, put Cathay streaks ahead of other carriers. Indeed, it was the exceptional standard of the staff, its reputation for flying the best aircraft and their unblemished safety record that determined why I chose to fly with the airline whenever I ventured to the Far East from the UK and from HK to the USA. However, Cathay Pacific were in essence exaggerating the truth when in reality some aircraft were flying with serious defects. But, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I known then, what I know now, I may have considered flying with a different carrier because nobody wants to feel that an airline is dangerous. I was appalled to read how safety was put in jeopardy and I feel that many of Cathay's passengers will, like me, be horrified at this discovery. John Warham's excellent account tells of the issues relating to rostering, cost-cutting, maintenance problems and of the severe threats and pressures that were put on pilots, including the expectation of management for them to fly when unfit, has forced me to view Cathay Pacific in an entirely different light. The true story is far removed from the glowing image of an ultra-safe caring airline with a well-maintained fleet of new aircraft that it lavishly promoted to its passengers. CEO David Turnbull's statement that "We've done the CBA (cost benefit analysis) on accidents and we can afford a hull loss every three years" is beyond contempt and clearly supports the author's narrative that there were "serious flaws in the safety culture" and illustrates that management was prepared to take major risks with the safety of their passengers and crew.

Captain Warham must be congratulated for making the complex union activities and legal aspects of the story easy to follow and I admire him and his 'band of brothers' who were on the CPA 'hit list' for having the courage to take on the might of their ruthless employers and stick with it for the 8+ years it took to expose them in court. Despite being beaten in court, the Cathay Pacific management still refused to admit they had done anything wrong and continued to tell lies to protect their own interests and reputations.

Having read the book it clearly makes sense how Cathay Pacific managed to return excellent profits every year during a period when many other airlines went to the wall. They would have us believe that it was achieved through good management practices; now we all know different!

A great - yet very disturbing read that exposes how greed has become the prime objective that is causing so many major corporations to cast ethics aside in pursuit of profits. I believe this book is about to open a real can of worms and rightfully so especially if, as I believe, fingers might start to be pointed at other major airlines who may be suspected of operating the same way.

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