The union representing United Parcel Service, Inc. pilots has asked the delivery giant for the option to decline flight assignments to Hong Kong after the city tightened Covid-19 screening requirements for aircrews.
Brian Gaudet, a spokesman for the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) wants the company to extend to Hong Kong an arrangement that allows cargo pilots to opt in for routes to mainland China.
Gaudet said, the voluntary program "has worked well for us in China." It provides UPS Airlines all the captains and first officers it needs to operate, and anybody who doesn't feel safe flying into the theater doesn't have to sign up.
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, China was aggressive with testing and spraying crews, but UPS was able to negotiate for different protocols.
Mike Mangeot, Director of Strategic Communications for UPS Airlines said in email, "Throughout the pandemic, UPS has coordinated extensively with our pilots to ensure their safety and continuity of our air express services. We've provided them with facemasks, hand sanitizer, and thermometers, enhanced aircraft cleaning protocols, worked with them on scheduling concerns, and educated them on WHO and CDC-recommended public health practices. Our crewmembers have responded admirably in these dynamic conditions."
Mangeot also said that UPS continues to operate the vast majority of its services in Hong Kong "with the same time commitments our customers have come to expect, and we have contingency plans in place to avoid significant impact to service."
FedEx Pilots Upset
The development with UPS pilots comes at the same that pilots for FedEx Corporation have balked at flying to Hong Kong. Last week, the Air Line Pilots Association called on FedEx to suspend flights to Hong Kong because of what it termed "unacceptable risks" to the safety and well-being of pilots. The union said pilots are forced to stay in unsafe hospitals or quarantine centers if they test positive for COVID or have been exposed to someone who has.
Capt. Dave Chase, chairman of the FedEx ALPA Master Executive Council, said in a statement that,
"Pilots who test positive for Covid-19 face compulsory admission and treatment in government-selected public hospitals, with as many as five patients to a room with one shared bathroom. In addition, any pilot or family member in Hong Kong found to have been exposed to a Covid-19 positive individual is placed in a government quarantine facility for up to 14 days with very sparse provisions."
Last week the Hong Kong government tightened rules on incoming aircrews. Pilots and flight attendants must now have proof of a negative test for Covid-19 48 hours prior to boarding their flight to Hong Kong or otherwise submit to a deep-throat saliva test upon arrival at Hong Kong airport, and wait for the results there or at a designated location.
Airlines must also arrange direct transportation for crews between the airport and their hotel, or other accommodation, and prohibit the use of public transportation, according to the new directive. Airlines should also ensure that crew members self-isolate and minimize contact with the local population during their stay, it says.