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Hong Kong’s Cathay sticking to rebuilding plan with new routes to come later

Hong Kong’s Cathay sticking to rebuilding plan with new routes to come later
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Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific sticking to rebuilding plan with new routes coming only after return to full capacity, says chairman

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways will not expand into new routes until after it restores full capacity by the first quarter of next year, its chairman has said, adding that speeding up its timeline “is not the right thing to do”.

Cathay chairman Patrick Healy told the Post on Monday that the carrier had no plans yet to expand its network or bring forward its target despite now reaching 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic capacity.

“At the moment we are still building back the network post-pandemic. We’re at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity at the moment,” he said in Dubai on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline trade body.

Healy said that by the time the carrier reached full capacity by early next year, the number of destinations would be restored from the present 80 to 90, and only then would it start looking at other locations such as in the Middle East.

“So the focus until now really has been building back the frequency and the destination network that we had pre-Covid,” he said.

“Once we’ve achieved that, then clearly we’re looking for expansion opportunities. There’s a lot of interest in the Middle East these days out of Hong Kong for obvious reasons. But clearly those opportunities we’re going to be very aware of.”

Cathay chairman Patrick Healy has expressed optimism over the carrier’s outlook Photo: May Tse

Cathay is expected to launch a long-awaited direct service to Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh in October after a signing ceremony on Thursday as calls mount for the carrier to roll out more destinations, especially in the Middle East.

The company earlier announced it would relaunch passenger flights between Hong Kong and Riyadh in the fourth quarter as the government pursued stronger trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi route was axed in March 2017.

Healy insisted the company would stick to the timeline for achieving full pre-pandemic capacity without further delay, saying it was the right timing.

“It is a complex [rebuilding] process. We have recruitment, training and the supply chains. There are many parts to that jigsaw to put it all in place. And so we’ve had a build back plan,” he said.

“And so I think accelerating it wouldn’t be the right thing to do … We’re very confident that we’ll be at 100 per cent of pre-Covid capacity by the first quarter of 2025.”

Healy also expressed optimism over the outlook for Cathay in 2025 on the back of the launch of the airport’s third runway at the end of this year and Hong Kong’s further integration into the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

“Obviously the third runway is a great opportunity for us and for the whole of aviation in Hong Kong. So we see that as a growth opportunity. Cathay Pacific will continue to grow,” he said.

“There’s a lot of integration into the GBA. There’s an opportunity not only for aviation, for Cathay, but the whole of Hong Kong. We see a lot of growth opportunities there.”

He added: “Business [for Cathay] continues to be strong. Demand is strong … We’ve got tremendous confidence in the future.”

Cathay has been pushing back its target of restoring pre-pandemic capacity to early 2025 from the last quarter of this year after being hit by tremendous flight cancellations. The company cancelled 786 flights between last December and February – more than 4 per cent of the total.

The airline needs another 500 pilots this year to meet its target of reaching pre-pandemic capacity early next year. The new hires will increase the number of pilots to 3,400, still 400 fewer than in early 2020.

The recovery of Hong Kong’s tourism sector was slower than expected in 2023, with flight capacity limitations a factor.

The bay area is Beijing’s plan to link Hong Kong and Macau and nine cities in neighbouring Guangdong province to create an economic powerhouse.

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