With the regional aviation industry under strain, Cathay Pacific pilots have shown an instinct for bad timing in their decision to reject the management's revised package. They now have until June 11 to decide on their future action. Unless there is a last-minute settlement, the row threatens to bring chaos to the travelling public during the peak holiday period, which means that the pilots will alienate local opinion from the start. But the degree of popular support or antagonism they attract is a minor consideration. Far more serious is the effect which a strike would have on the economy - on the tourist industry and the viability of Chek Lap Kok airport to Cathay's chances of a speedy recovery from the recent decline in its fortunes. To risk such damage at a time when so many others are being called upon to take cuts to their living standards suggests that pilots feel they have a cast-iron case. But it is not one with which outsiders can readily identify. Employees in a flourishing industry are entitled to expect annual increases as their company records steadily rising profits. When the figures turn down, it is not unreasonable to expect workers who are decidedly well paid to share some of the pain. Cathay has reported a $542 million net loss, its first year-end loss in 35 years. It is asking pilots to accept a steep salary cut, but will offer stock options. Competitively, Cathay has a real case for needing to reduce costs if Hong Kong is to keep a major airline company. It must be hoped that the industry's troubles will prove temporary, and that traffic will grow again once the region recovers. In that case, the time for employees to stick out for a better deal is when the results are back in the black. Such disputes always involve a fair degree of brinkmanship. But, as things stand, the prospect for all parties, including the public, looks grim. Reasonable concessions made during the current recession would give the pilots a stronger moral case in the future. However the argument is viewed, this is not the time for a strike.