HONG KONG (Reuters) - Cathay Pacific Airways pilots are to suspend their industrial action against the airline indefinitely and are willing to resume talks with the management, the pilots' union said on Friday.
John Findlay, general secretary of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association (HKAOA), which represents more than 85 percent of Cathay's about 1,400 passenger pilots, said the suspension would take effect from 1200 hrs (0400 GMT) on Sunday.
Asked how long the industrial action would be suspended, Findlay replied that the union had "no time frame".
Cathay pilots started working to rule on July 3, escalating it in late August after talks to resolve a long-running pay and rostering dispute broke down in late June.
The airline welcomed the move and said it was a step in the right direction, but added the damage had already been done.
"Their industrial action over the last four months has caused significant damage to the airline and to Hong Kong," said Tony Tyler, director of corporate development,
He declined to say how much the action had cost Cathay.
"The damage is not only to the financial situation of the company but to its reputation," he said.
The airline said in August that the dispute had cost it HK$350 million, and a pilot "sickout" in 1999 cost it an estimated HK$500 million.
Cathay has sacked 52 pilots since the dispute, saying it had lost confidence in them, but later reinstated one.
Cathay rejected an HKAOA approach early this month to resume talks, saying it would not return to talks while industrial action continues.
Findlay said the HKAOA had not set conditions for talks.
"We have no pre-conditions either for the talks or for the outcome. We're going in with a clean sheet of paper," he said.
The Cathay pilots protest has been overshadowed by the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that have wreaked havoc on the industry.
FLIGHT REDUCTION, NO JOB CUTS YET
More than 122,000 people have lost their jobs in the U.S. aviation sector alone since the air attacks as nervous travellers cancelled flights and airlines delayed or cancelled orders for new planes.
While Cathay has not laid off staff as a result of the attacks, it said recently that it was reviewing costs.
Cathay said on Thursday that September passenger traffic dived 12.1 percent year-on-year, blaming the September 11 attacks and global slowdown.
Tyler declined to rule out further job cuts or service cuts, noting that Cathay had just temporarily suspended some services on Friday evening, but said layoffs would be a last resort.
He said the practical effect of the action's suspension was actually "pretty much negligible" because pilots had effectively wound it down in recent weeks.
Cathay said on Friday it would reduce flight frequencies from October 22, its second cut in just over one week.
The latest cut would represent three percent of its total weekly schedule, the airline said. Cathay said last week it would cut four percent of its flights.
Shares of Cathay were unchanged at HK$7.15 on Friday. The stock is one the worst performers in the blue chip Hang Seng Index and has fallen by more than 50 percent this year.