Cathay traffic still ‘significantly reduced’ due to COVID-19

Cathay Pacific HK by Matt Driskill
(PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Use this oneCathay Pacific released its traffic figures for March 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 carried a total of 18,539 passengers last month, a decrease of 94 percent compared to March 2020. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) fell 95.7 percent year-on-year. Passenger load factor dropped by 28 percentage points to 21.2 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), decreased by 90 percent. In the first three months of 2021, the number of passengers carried dropped by 98.4 percent against a 91.7 percent decrease in capacity and a 98.2 percent decrease in RPKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.

The airline carried 83,329 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 30.1 percent compared to March 2020. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) fell 32.4 percent year-on-year. The cargo and mail load factor increased by 8.9 percentage points to 86.4 percent, while capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was down by 39.4 percent. In the first three months of 2021, the tonnage fell by 29.6 percent against a 39.6 percent drop in capacity and a 26.5 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)

Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “Our passenger business continues to face significant challenges. With the tightened crew quarantine requirements in Hong Kong, we only managed to maintain a skeleton schedule in March, operating passenger services to just 18 destinations. That represented a capacity decline of 47 percent when compared with February. Average daily passenger numbers decreased even further to just 598, compared to 755 in February. We’ve seen positive demand for student travel to London so far in the first half of April and have been operating more frequent flights to cater to this demand. Meanwhile, we are supporting the operation of two special flights on 21 and 28 April, respectively, to bring Hong Kong residents home from the UK. We also welcome the Hong Kong SAR government’s decision to lift the ban on flights from the UK starting early May and look forward to further relaxations as we move that little bit closer to the return of normal international travel. Additionally, the government’s intention to lift the mandatory quarantine period for travellers from the Chinese mainland and reduce it for those arriving from low- and medium-risk places is a positive step in the right direction. We will remain agile and responsive in capturing any new travel demand available.”


Cathay has delivered at least 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

Lam said the airline’s cargo capacity was constrained by stringent crew quarantine requirements in Hong Kong, resulting in a 39.4 percent year-on-year reduction in capacity. This was despite efforts to operate more cargo-only passenger flights as well as chartered freighter flights from our subsidiary, Air Hong Kong. “Cargo demand was strong in March, particularly from Northeast Asia and the Americas, while demand from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland also ramped up during the latter half of the month,” Lam said. “Load factor improved to an all-time high of 86.4 percent, whilst the revenue share for our Priority LIFT product continued to increase as customers sought express solutions for their critical shipments. Just this week, the government announced that it would lift the mandatory quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Hong Kong-based aircrew on freighters and cargo-only passenger flights from today. This will have a positive impact on our cargo business while also progressively reducing our monthly operating cash burn.”


Airlines like Cathay Pacific have had to ground hundreds of planes and slash capacity as international travel has ground to a virtual halt. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Lam said Cathay welcomed “the government’s plan to use ‘vaccine bubbles’ as the basis for introducing further relaxation measures, including those relating to cross-boundary travel. This provides a framework under which fully vaccinated people could benefit from shorter or no quarantine requirements when travelling, such as via an air travel bubble, which we are eagerly anticipating. Community-wide vaccination is pivotal to the global COVID-19 recovery. We have recently launched a campaign to encourage all of our employees, including aircrew, to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and we are very pleased to see that this has already received a positive response. We are grateful to all of our people who have already received or booked their vaccination, and we will continue with our efforts. This will not only help facilitate the return of regular international air travel and preserve vital connections between Hong Kong and the rest of the world, but most importantly it will also safeguard the health and wellbeing of them and their families. We’ve also continued to build on the momentum in moving vaccines both to Hong Kong and across our network, and earlier this week we passed the significant milestone of having so far shipped 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.”

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