Cathay traffic remains hobbled by quarantines

Cathay Pacific cargo
(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

AirlinerCathay Pacific released its traffic figures for September 2021 that continued to reflect the airline’s substantial capacity reductions in response to significantly reduced demand as well as travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place in Hong Kong and other markets amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Cathay Pacific trafficCathay Pacific carried a total of 131,774 passengers last month, an increase of 180 percent compared to September 2020, but a 94.6 percent decrease compared to the pre-pandemic level in September 2019. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) rose 158.7 percent year-on-year, but were down 92.1 percent versus September 2019. Passenger load factor increased by 20.9 percentage points to 45.8 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), increased by 40.4 percent, but remained 87.4 percent down on September 2019 levels. In the first nine months of 2021, the number of passengers carried dropped by 89.4 percent against a 71.7 percent decrease in capacity and an 85.9 percent decrease in RPKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.

The airline carried 130,997 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, an increase of 19.7 percent compared to September 2020, but a 24.1 percent decrease compared with the same period in 2019. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) rose 22.3 percent year-on-year, but were down 14.3 percent compared to September 2019. The cargo and mail load factor increased by 3.8 percentage points to 79.7 percent, while capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was up by 16.4 percent year-on-year, but was down 29.6 percent versus September 2019. In the first nine months of 2021, the tonnage decreased by 5.5 percent against a 17.8 percent drop in capacity and a 7.3 percent decrease in RFTKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.

Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “Following on from August, our passenger business continued to see some improvement in September. Average daily passenger numbers were at similar levels to the previous month, while on 17 September we carried a total of 6,562 passengers, the highest total for a single day since late March 2020. Nevertheless, we still operated only approximately 13 percent of our pre-pandemic passenger capacity when compared to September 2019.

“Student traffic from the Chinese Mainland continued to contribute strongly to the performance of our passenger business. As was anticipated, demand for student travel to the US was strong at the beginning of the month, but tapered down before being overtaken by growing student traffic from Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland to the UK. Besides, passengers travelling within Asia via Hong Kong was also a key driver for demand. In contrast, passenger demand for flights into Hong Kong remained very weak due to the strict quarantine requirements.

Cathay Pacific
Cathay and other airlines are relying on cargo shipments to stay alive. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

“Cargo demand continued to grow as we stepped into the traditional cargo peak season. To meet this demand, we operated our freighter fleet at peak capacity throughout September, further supplemented with additional cargo-only passenger flight operations, which surged 20 percent compared to August. Overall, we managed to operate approximately 70 percent of our pre-pandemic cargo capacity when compared to September 2019.

“Overall tonnage grew month-on-month by more than 5 percent to 130,997 tonnes – the most cargo we’ve carried in a single month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong performances were recorded across our network, with our home market Hong Kong and a number of Southeast Asian countries achieving record revenues in September. Our time-sensitive Priority LIFT product, as well as our charter and “preighter” solutions, have also seen keen interest from customers.

Airlines and lessors around the world are converting passenger planes to freighters. (PHOTO: Airbus)

“Looking ahead to October, on the passenger side student traffic to London continued into early in the month. Meanwhile, we are continuing to monitor and assess the potential opportunities for demand from the relaxation of quarantine requirements for travellers flying to various markets, most notably the US. “Regarding cargo, demand continues to be robust driven by the movement of new consumer products and the urgent need for inventory replenishment due to supply chains remaining constrained. To meet these challenges, our worldwide teams have been working diligently to provide more capacity and expand our network for our customers whilst continuing to meet the ongoing operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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