Cathay Pacific Could Mothball Up To Half Of Its Fleet

Since the start of the crisis, Cathay Pacific has been flying part of its fleet for long-term storage in the Australian desert. One month ago, the talk was about parking one-third of the Hong Kong carrier’s planes. Now, as long-haul demand remains at abysmal levels, sources say it could be as much as half the fleet.

Hong-Kong Airport Cathay Dragon
Pressured carrier Cathay could send half its fleet to long-term storage, sources say. Photo: Getty Images

Potentially as much as 50% of the fleet

On Wednesday, the South China Morning Post reported that sources familiar with the matter said that the Cathay Group, including Cathay Dragon, could send 50% of its aircraft to be mothballed. Dozens of the airline’s planes have already made their way to the arid, non-corrosive climate of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.

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Now, it seems that not only will they remain there for a prolonged period of time, but they will be joined by more of its colleagues than previously intended. Cathay has yet to decide on an amended number, but sources agree it will be larger than the one-third initially planned.

Simple Flying has reached out to Cathay for a comment but was yet to receive a reply at the time of publication.

Cathay Pacific 777 Runway
Cathay Pacific is particularly vulnerable as it operates a fleet of only widebody aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

All widebody fleet

Airlines focused on long-haul traffic through major transfer hubs are particularly vulnerable to prolonged international travel restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic. Cathay Pacific has a fleet of only widebody aircraft, most of which it has already temporarily taken out of service.

From Airbus, the carrier has 27 A330 of which 21 are already parked, and 37 A350, only 19 of which are in service. It also has 68 Boeing 777, and 14 747s. Funnily enough, as for most carriers, the quadjets were the first to be sent to storage, or even to early retirement, all of the latter are still listed as active.

Meanwhile, all but seven of the 777 are already parked. That makes 100 out of 152 planes already on the ground. Even in March, it was only half of the fleet.

Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Getty Images
The opening of HKIA for transfer has helped Cathay only marginally. Photo: Getty Images

Survive, Recapitalize, Restructure, Revive

As domestic and short-haul markets are expected to recover sooner than the long-haul segment, Cathay Pacific remains particularly vulnerable for the foreseeable future. In June, it carried only 1% of its normal passenger volume.

For the company’s financial briefing from August 10th, it said that the first six months of 2020 were the most challenging that the Cathay Pacific Group has faced in its more than 70-year history.

In the same briefing, Cathay laid out its plan of “Survive, Recapitalize, Restructure, Revive.” While the opening up of Hong Kong International Airport for transfer traffic in June was of some help to the struggling airline, a return to something even resembling normal operations is still far away on the horizon.

With long-haul demand not expected to return to the pre-pandemic level until 2024, all those planes headed for storage will have to wait some time for the “Revive” phase to kick in.

How long do you think it will take before Cathay begins to bring back all those planes from the desert? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.