Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific subsidiary Cathay Dragon will start using its passenger Airbus A330 flights to only transport cargo.
The move follows a directive from the Japanese government that imposes a 14-day quarantine period on all passengers arriving from China and Korea. Alongside the quarantine, Japan is suspending its visa waiver program with Hong Kong passport holders, according to the South China Morning Post.
Under the visa waiver program, visitors holding a Hong Kong passport were allowed to stay in Japan for up to 90 days without the need to first obtain a visa. Now, mainland Chinese citizens are required to apply to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing or at one of the Japanese Consulates in Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Shanghai, and Shenyang for a visa prior to their visit.
Japan is worried about the coronavirus
These latest moves follow concerns over the spread of the coronavirus entering Japan from China.
In response to the new Japanese regulations, Cathay Pacific said on Monday that they may now only fly freight between Hong Kong and Japan. On Saturday, Hong Kong’s largest airline took most of its Japanese destinations off the schedule for the entire month of March. In an update to the airlines’ freight customers, the airline issued the following announcement:
“Although we do expect our passenger belly cargo operations to be impacted, we are currently evaluating how to continue serving our cargo customers to and from Japan.” This includes the retention of certain passenger services for cargo carriage only.”
Hong Kong supplies Japan with food products
Hong Kong is a big supplier of fresh seafood and fruit that is delivered by air to Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Nagoya in the cargo holds of Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon aircraft.
Over the past few years, airlines have seen an increase in cargo traffic primarily driven by e-commerce, yet in the case of Cathay Pacific’s and Cathay Dragon’s flights between Hong Kong and Japan, the freight is driven by perishable food products that need to get to market quickly. Such is the demand in Japan for these products the Hong Kong airline can still operate flights at a profit despite not having any passengers on board.
As global shipping price soars, Cathay Dragon is flying A330 passenger jet to Beijing and Shanghai without passenger to transport cargo in the belly.
You heard it right. They are using passenger plane as cargo plane. pic.twitter.com/9K5soQfEUf
— ChinaAviationReview (@ChinaAvReview) March 9, 2020
Cathay Dragon currently operates a fleet of 26 A330-300s, according to Planespotters.net, which it will use to fly cargo between Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Japan.
Cathay Pacific and its subsidy Cathay Dragon have been beset by problems, not of their own making. First, they had the protests in Hong Kong that saw passenger numbers drop and now the coronavirus which has caused them to park up around half of all their aircraft and slash nearly three-quarters of March flights. Cathay Pacific also announced last week that 75% of staff, representing 25,000 employees of the group, would take unpaid leave.
The airline industry is getting hammered
This latest move by Japan is yet another blow with more probably to come as the coronavirus epidemic hammers the global aviation industry.
As the virus continues to spread with no predictable end in sight, airlines may be required to rely more on freight than passengers. Because of the coronavirus and people’s fear of becoming infected, air passenger numbers have started to tumble as people start to stay closer to home.
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