Cathay Pacific Airways pilots yesterday accused the airline of putting profits before safety by trying to operate flights with fewer crew. They said the company had proposed to extend the hours a pilot could fly before needing to be relieved. That would allow flights previously needing three pilots to operate with two. Cathay rejected the allegation, saying the proposal was only being discussed and would have no bearing on flight safety. John Findlay, general secretary of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association, representing about 1,000 Cathay pilots and flight engineers, said: 'Management recently made a proposal to increase by nearly 20 per cent the flying hours limit before the third pilot must be carried on medium-range flights. 'The association firmly believes that proposals such as these, if implemented, would have a serious and adverse effect on flight safety. 'Aviation medical experts on fatigue in aircrew are recommending that flying hours on medium and long-range flights should be decreased rather than increased.' He rejected statements by Cathay that the pilots, who voted to work to rule last week, were stirring up trouble ahead of annual pay talks. Cathay spokesman Kwan Chuk-fai said extending flight hours from 8.5 to 10 hours was being discussed by a working group from the Civil Aviation Department, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Air Hong Kong. 'Even if it is passed, it would still be well within the legal limit,' he said.