Cathay Pacific Sends Almost 100 Aircraft To Storage

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has put 92 jets, or 44% of its passenger fleet, into long-term storage at locations in Australia and Europe. The numbers were confirmed by Cathay Pacific Group Chairman Patrick Healy while this week delivering news of a 2020 calendar year loss of US$2.79 billion.

Cathay Pacific has put nearly half its passenger aircraft into long-term storage. Photo: Getty Images

With few flights, Cathay Pacific is busy parking its planes

Those jets have been sent to long-term storage facilities in Ciudad Real, Spain, and Alice Springs, Australia. Mr Healy noted this week that Cathay Pacific expects to operate at 25% of its 2019 capacity in the first six months of 2021. He hopes things will improve later this year. In the meantime, nearly half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet sits idle.

To gauge the true extent of the travel downturn at Cathay Pacific, consider this. At 00:00 UTC on Friday, March 12, Cathay Pacific has just 14 flights operating. Between Cathay Pacific and its various regional subsidiary brands, the airline has around 200 aircraft. Right now, just 7% of those planes are in the sky.

Cathay Pacific began relocating its planes over the August – September 2020 period. While the travel downturn has airlines like Cathay Pacific reeling, it is proving lucrative for airports with lots of spare space and the right climate to park planes.

Spain’s Ciudad Real International Airport was a white elephant until the travel downturn. Photo: Getty Images

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Cathay’s planes go to Spain’s Ciudad Real Airport

Ciudad Real was Spain’s white elephant airport. Opened just 12 years ago a long way from Madrid at a reported cost of €1.1 billion, the airport struggled to gain customers. Ryanair and Vueling briefly flew to Ciudad Real, the latter only because the Spanish Government was subsidizing its flights there. Three years after opening, the airport quietly disappeared off the aviation radar.

But Ciudad Real is now reborn as a long-term storage facility, and business is booming. In September 2020, the aircraft maintenance business Jet Aircraft Services did an initial deal with Cathay Pacific to look after nine Airbus A330-300 there. By that time, there were already 72 other Airbus planes parked at Ciudad Real, including A320s, A330s, and A340s.

Alice Springs hosts scores of Cathay Pacific aircraft

Halfway across the world, in Alice Springs, the desert airport was going about its business of handling domestic flights, military flights for nearby semi-secret US installations, and the odd waylaid international aircraft that needed to make a fast landing. When the travel downturn hit, all the space around the airport suddenly became a valuable asset.

Asia-Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) had quietly built a business at Alice Springs Airport for several years before the travel downturn. Mid-2020, APAS was looking after around 45 planes. Three months later, it was closer to 80 planes. And the planes kept landing.

Alice Springs now houses over 100 planes put into long-term storage. Photo: Getty Images

While parked Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380s tended to steal the limelight at Alice Springs, Cathay Pacific was also sending scores of planes there. They included Airbus A330-300s and Boeing 777-300s. Cathay Pacific’s low-cost brand, Hong Kong Express, has A320-200s and A321-200s parked in Alice Springs. Also in the mix are aircraft from the now-defunct Cathay Dragon brand.

The owners of APAS have brought forward expansion plans and expect to hold some 200 aircraft before the downturn subsides. In the meantime, Cathay Pacific’s Patrick Healy is crossing his fingers and hoping business bounces back soon. Then, he can get more of his planes in the air and out of long-term storage at both Cuidad Real and Alice Springs.