Cathay Pacific delays new routes for full capacity takeoff

Picture courtesy of CNBC

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s flag carrier, will refrain from expanding into new routes until it achieves full capacity by early next year. Despite reaching 80% of its pre-pandemic capacity, Chairman Patrick Healy stated that speeding up the timeline “is not the right thing to do.”

Healy revealed to the South China Morning Post that the airline has no immediate plans to expand its network. Speaking at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Dubai, he emphasised the focus remains on rebuilding the network post-pandemic.

“At the moment we are still building back the network post-pandemic. We’re at 80% of pre-pandemic capacity at the moment.”

By early next year, Cathay Pacific aims to restore its number of destinations from 80 to 90. Only after reaching full capacity will the airline consider new locations, including potential routes in the Middle East, said Healy.

“So the focus until now really has been building back the frequency and the destination network that we had pre-Covid. Once we’ve achieved that, then clearly we’re looking for expansion opportunities. There’s a lot of interest in the Middle East these days out of Hong Kong for obvious reasons. But clearly those opportunities we’re going to be very aware of.”

Cathay Pacific is set to introduce a direct service to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October following a recent signing ceremony. This comes amid increasing calls for the airline to expand its destinations, particularly in the Middle East. The Saudi route, previously cut in March 2017, will be relaunched as part of efforts to strengthen trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia.

Pre-pandemic capacity

Healy affirmed the airline’s commitment to its timeline for reaching full pre-pandemic capacity, emphasising the complexity of the rebuilding process, which includes recruitment, training, and supply chain logistics.

“It is a complex [rebuilding] process. We have recruitment, training and supply chains. There are many parts to that jigsaw to put it all in place. And so we’ve had a build-back plan. And so I think accelerating it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We’re very confident that we’ll be at 100% of pre-Covid capacity by the first quarter of 2025.”

Healy also expressed optimism about Cathay’s prospects for 2025, bolstered by the upcoming launch of Hong Kong International Airport’s third runway and further integration into the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

“Obviously, the third runway is a great opportunity for us and the whole of aviation in Hong Kong. So we see that as a growth opportunity. Cathay Pacific will continue to grow.

“There’s a lot of integration into the GBA. There’s an opportunity not only for aviation, but for Cathay, but the whole of Hong Kong. We see a lot of growth opportunities there.

Business [for Cathay] continues to be strong. Demand is strong. We’ve got tremendous confidence in the future.”

Capacity target

The airline has postponed its target of restoring pre-pandemic capacity to early 2025, initially set for the last quarter of this year, due to numerous flight cancellations. Between last December and February, Cathay cancelled 786 flights, equating to over 4% of its total flights.

To meet its capacity target, Cathay Pacific needs to hire an additional 500 pilots this year, increasing the total number of pilots to 3,400, still 400 fewer than in early 2020.

Hong Kong’s tourism sector recovery has been slower than anticipated in 2023, partly due to flight capacity limitations. The Greater Bay Area is a Beijing initiative aiming to link Hong Kong, Macau, and nine cities in Guangdong province to create an economic hub.

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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