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Cathay Pacific Plans to Operate Less Than 50% of Capacity for the Whole of 2021… And That’s Being Optimistic

Cathay Pacific Plans to Operate Less Than 50% of Capacity for the Whole of 2021… And That’s Being Optimistic

Cathay Pacific’s chief customer and commercial officer, Ronald Lam painted a sobering picture of what the next 12-months has in store for the Hong Kong-based airline on Monday, saying that the carrier expected to operate just 10 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity for the rest of 2020. And the outlook for next year was only marginally less gloomy with Lam saying Cathay’s most optimistic planning scenario was that capacity would hover around 50 per cent for the whole of 2021.

“Among the multiple scenarios studied, this one is already the most optimistic that we can responsibly adopt at this moment,” Lam commented as the airline released its monthly traffic figures for September.

Photo Credit: Cathay Pacific
Photo Credit: Cathay Pacific

“We assume we will be operating well below a quarter of pre-pandemic capacity in the first half of next year but will see a recovery in the second half of the year – only assuming the vaccines currently under development prove to be effective and are widely adopted in our key markets by summer 2021,” Lam continued.

In September, the Cathay Pacific group (which includes regional carrier Cathay Dragon) carried just 47,061 – down 98.1 per cent compared to September 2019. Even then, passenger numbers were boosted by strong demand from foreign university students travelling to London for the start of a new academic year.

Demand from the Chinese mainland has also partially recovered after the lifting of a ban on transit passengers, although system-wide capacity remained at just 9 per cent and the average passenger load factor was just 25 per cent. On average, the total number of passengers carried by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon each day in September was just 1,568.

During September 2019, average daily passenger numbers tipped 150,000.

Hong Kong has successfully kept the threat of COVID-19 at bay but the stringent measures adopted to contain the virus have largely closed down international travel to the territory. Unlike some other airlines based in countries that have also adopted tough rules on international travel, Cathay Pacific does not have a domestic route network to fall back on.

An agreement in principle to open a travel bubble with Singapore may prove welcome relief to the airline but limited travel corridors will do little to stem Cathay’s mounting losses. The carrier is finalising a massive restructuring effort to survive the protracted Corona crisis and significant job losses are expected to be announced in the coming days or perhaps weeks.

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