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Cathay Pacific Brings Home its Last Airplane From the Australian Desert After Nearly Four Years in Storage

Cathay Pacific Brings Home its Last Airplane From the Australian Desert After Nearly Four Years in Storage

a plane on the runway

Cathay Pacific has brought home its last airplane which was placed in long-term storage in the Australian desert at the height of the pandemic when the airline’s home territory of Hong Kong was effectively isolated from the rest of the world with some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions imposed by any government.

The 20-year-old Airbus A330 was the first plane in Cathay Pacific’s fleet to be sent to an aircraft boneyard in Alice Springs on July 28, 2020, when it became painfully obvious that Hong Kong’s stringent pandemic-era travel restrictions were going to remain in force for a very long time.

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Cathay Pacific

While Cathay Pacific was able to park some of its fleet at Hong Kong International Airport, the airline also had to despatch some aircraft to long-term storage facilities in Australia and Ciudad Real, Spain – both chosen because of their low humidity.

As the Hong Kong government suddenly shifted its pandemic strategy in March 2022, Cathay Pacific was faced with the daunting task of slowly reactivating its entire fleet of stored planes.

“Parking and reactivating so many aircraft is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking, the scale and complexity of which has never been seen before at Cathay,” commented the airline’s chief operations and service delivery officer, Alex McGowan.

“An incredible amount of work goes into keeping an aircraft safe and protected when it isn’t flying, and to then reactivate it for entry back into regular service”.

Cathay Pacific had 85 aircraft grounded in long-term storage facilities overseas, which equates to around 37% of the combined fleet of Cathay Pacific and its budget subsidiary, HK Express.

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Cathay Pacific

“With our fleet now fully reunited, our focus is firmly on investing for the future. The Cathay Group has more than 70 new aircraft on order, with the right to acquire an additional 52 aircraft in the future,” McGowan continued.

“We are also exploring options for a new mid-size widebody aircraft.”

Cathay’s general manager of engineering operations, Bob Taylor, said the stored aircraft weren’t simply abandoned overseas but went through a defined programme of maintenance checks and inspections over the last three years and ten months.

In fact, Taylor explains that engineers carried out a total of 16,000 preservation checks on aircraft parked in Alice Springs, accounting for 800,000 labour hours. In addition, 40,000 parts and items of specialised equipment had to be shipped from Cathay’s maintenance base in Hong Kong to support the engineering effort in Australia.

The final aircraft started its journey home on June 6, when it initially flew from Alice Springs to Darwin and then continued to Hong Kong. Now that the aircraft is in Hong Kong, it will undergo and extensive hangar maintenance check before returning to commercial service.

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