A Cathay Pacific flight that a pilots' union has claimed was short-staffed was certified to fly with only two pilots and did not require a backup crew member, the director general of the Civil Aviation Department stated yesterday. The director general, represented by Anthony Ismail, was responding to a summons at the Court of First Instance brought by the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers' Association. The union accused the department of breaching aviation rules that determine the number of crew that should be on a flight. One pilot rostered for the Melbourne to Hong Kong flight on February 27 last year fell ill, so two pilots made the flight instead of the three usually required. According to department policy, if two pilots are scheduled to fly for more than eight hours from 2am to 5.59am, according to the time of origin, the airline must provide a third crew member. The department waived the requirement at Cathay's request. The trip lasted eight hours and 36 minutes, and the pilots were on duty for nine hours and 26 minutes, the court heard. Mr Ismail argued that even if one pilot was suddenly incapacitated the flight would have no problems because the aircraft was designed to operate with two crew members. He also noted that a computer flight plan was to be used. In Europe two pilots could fly for more than eight hours and there had never been a worldwide ban on two pilots operating flights for even 10 hours at night, he said. The captain and the first officer who piloted the Cathay flight had rested for three and six days, respectively, before the flight, he said. Mr Ismail argued that the rules were merely department policy, not legislation, and hence did not have the force of law. Earlier, John Scott, representing the union, said that while the Cathay flight had arrived safely, it did so with a lower margin of safety. A third crew member could allow the others to rest and monitor takeoff and landing. The union was seeking clarification on whether the department had acted improperly. The union has noted that other crew were available but Cathay did not call them to replace the ill pilot.