While aviation has begun to see signs of recovery in much of the world, the woes for Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific continue. On Friday, the airline released its passenger figures for the month of May. Cathay carried on average only 774 passengers per day. While this is an increase by 30% from May 2020 and month-on-month by 6.6%, it is still 99.2% less than pre-COVID numbers for the same period.
Load factors remain under 30%
The small increase in monthly numbers the carrier attributes to its resumption of services to Fuzhou and Hangzhou on mainland China and Dubai in the UAE. Average load factors hit peak numbers since June last year. The fact that they are still only 26.7% says something about the kind of pressure the long-haul dependent airline is under. Meanwhile, some markets did better than others.
“We saw increasing demand for our UK services throughout the month. On 8 May, we operated our first scheduled flight from London since December last year. (…) Our US routes also benefitted from our customers from these markets, in particular our New York route, which recorded better-than-average load factors,” said Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam.
“Unfortunately, demand was weaker in our other markets. The ban on flights from the Philippines to Hong Kong was extended, and new COVID-19 cases emerged in Taiwan, impacting demand,” Mr Lam continued.
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Strong demand for UK and US flights
To cater to the strong demand for travel between mainland China, the UK, and the US, Cathay said it would continue to add more passenger services throughout June. The airline has also resumed flights this month to Amsterdam, Brisbane, Frankfurt, San Francisco, Seoul, and Vancouver. The aim is to operate 30% of pre-COVID passenger capacity by the fourth quarter of 2021.
While most airlines continue to report high cargo revenue, Cathay saw a decrease in revenue freight tonne kilometers (RFTKs) by 16.9% compared to May last year. This is mostly a consequence of Hong Kong’s previously severe quarantine requirements for airline crew.
The 14-day quarantine requirement for crew was introduced in February and forced Cathay to cut 25% of its cargo capacity, as well as raise its daily cash burn significantly. However, the requirement has now been lifted for airline staff who are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the carrier said it had yet to return to a full freighter schedule due to crew rostering lead time.
Close to 90% of pilots now vaccinated
In the statement Friday, Cathay said it was grateful to the approximately 90% of pilots and 64% of cabin crew that had already received the vaccine or booked their appointments to do so. The airline said that so far in 2021, there had been zero positive tests out of the 44,000 that its Hong Kong-based crew had taken upon arrival back in the city.
What do you make of Cathay’s slow recovery trajectory? When will the Asian long-haul market be back in earnest? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.