Cathay Pacific will be operating all its aircraft again by the end of next year, CEO Ronald Lam said this week, noting “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Cathay still has 67 inactive aircraft, according to CH Aviation’s database, of which 11 are under maintenance. The others, which include nine A330-300s and 22 777s, are stored in Hong Kong, Alice Springs, Ciudad Real and Xiamen.

Last month saw Cathay Cargo, as it is now branded, carry nearly 60% more freight than a year earlier, when its capacity was significantly cut owing to quarantine measures. Cathay said its cargo revenue tonne km (RFTKs) went up 154% – although load factors fell as capacity went up 206%.

“In the first two months of 2023, the tonnage increased by 42.8% against a 201.3% increase in capacity and a 147.4% increase in RFTKs, compared with the same period for 2022,” the carrier said.

Despite significant changes in Cathay’s capacity this year versus 2022, a UBS research note, published yesterday on Hong Kong International Airport’s tonnage data, failed to mention the hub carrier’s challenges. It said, instead: “While yoy volume growth in Feb may seem to be a sign of airfreight recovery, we attribute that mainly to the easy comp arising from an early start to Chinese New Year in 2023.”

Cathay, meanwhile, said Hong Kong was back in business. Mr Lam told Bloomberg TV: “Hong Kong opened up late, so there’s quite a lot of catch-up. But I think we are making good progress, and we are moving very fast as a city and as an airline. I’m very confident that given a little bit more time, we’ll be back on par with other cities and airlines.”

Chief customer and commercial officer Lavinia Lau added today that, in cargo, “ad-hoc demand from South-east Asia as well as South Asia, the Middle East and Africa also helped fill the gaps left by demand from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland on long-haul routes”.

She added: “Turning to March and beyond, we are making good progress in increasing our capacity and rebuilding connectivity at the Hong Kong international aviation hub. By the end of March, the Cathay group will be operating approximately 50% of pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity, covering more than 70 destinations.

“We continue to add more flights to our schedule, in particular for some of our most popular destinations,” she said, noting London, Japan and Shanghai in particular.

“On the cargo side, demand from our home market, Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese mainland is increasing, with e-commerce-related traffic picking up relatively more quickly. We are progressively expanding our network coverage as more of our passenger flights are resumed.”

WorldACD meanwhile repor today global tonnages have “stabilised, following their post-lunar new year bounceback in recent weeks and their steady decline most of last year, while average rates continue their gradual softening trends”.

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