Cathay’s April traffic shows ‘substantial capacity reductions’ as pace of recovery remains slow

COVID-19 quarantines keep pax traffic down and rise in cases cancels HK-Singapore travel bubble

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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)

https://www.bigmarker.com/series/ebace-connect/series_summit?utm_bmcr_source=MediaCathay Pacific released its traffic figures for April 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 22,404 passengers in April, an increase of 63.2 percent compared to April 2020, but a 99.3 percent decrease compared to the pre-pandemic level in April 2019. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) rose 32.6 percent year-on-year, but were down 99.1 percent versus April 2019. Passenger load factor increased by 2.5 percentage points to 24.2 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), increased by 18.9 percent, but remained 96.8 percent down on April 2019 levels. In the first four months of 2021, the number of passengers carried dropped by 97.9 percent against a 90.2 percent decrease in capacity and a 97.7 percent decrease in RPKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.

Both Hong Kong International Airport and Cathay Pacific have suffered because of political protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The airline carried 73,113 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 13.6 percent compared to April 2020. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) fell 31.3 percent year-on-year. The cargo and mail load factor increased by 12.5 percentage points to 83 percent, while capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was down by 41.7 percent. In the first four months of 2021, the tonnage fell by 26.7 percent against a 40 percent drop in capacity and a 27.5 percent decrease in RFTKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.

Passenger Traffic

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

Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “The pace of recovery continues to be slow. In April, passenger demand was still very weak and despite average daily passenger numbers improving slightly to 747, overall passenger numbers remained low at just 22,404. We cautiously reinstated more capacity to our network, including resuming regular services to Chengdu, Xiamen, Kaohsiung, Melbourne and Perth. Overall, we operated 21 percent more capacity in April than we did in March, though this still represented a 96.8 percent drop compared with the pre-pandemic level in April 2019. Load factor also improved slightly, but remained low at 24.2 percent.

“In the first half of April, we added more flights to cater for demand from student travellers heading to London. We also successfully operated two special flights that departed from London on 21 and 28 April to bring Hong Kong residents home. We are very proud that these marked our first flights operated by fully vaccinated pilots and cabin crew, and also our first flights from London since December last year. Furthermore, with the ban on flights to Hong Kong from the UK having been lifted earlier this month, we are pleased to now be operating regular flights from London Heathrow again.

“We were also encouraged to see more demand towards the end of April for traffic from the Chinese mainland under the Hong Kong SAR Government’s expanded Return2HK scheme, and we will be resuming flights to Fuzhou and Hangzhou at the end of May. However, travel restrictions continue to impact our passenger business, as was the case with the temporary suspension of all flights from the Philippines to Hong Kong by the Hong Kong SAR Government in mid-April.

Cargo

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

“On the cargo side, while we welcomed the easing of quarantine restrictions for cargo aircrew in Hong Kong in mid-April, the positive impact of the relaxation was not immediately realised due to crew rostering lead time and our overall capacity last month remained significantly affected. The number of freighter and cargo-only passenger flights that we operated was lower than at any point since the Covid-19 pandemic began, limiting our ability to provide more lift to what was a reasonably buoyant cargo market, particularly on long-haul routings. This reduction in capacity together with the firm market led to a high load factor of 83 percent. Our vaccine solution has gathered momentum and we surpassed the milestone of shipping 15 million Covid-19 vaccines around the world in mid-April. We have also seen surges in demand for related medical and healthcare supplies and we are focused on maximising our available capacity to facilitate the movement of these essential shipments.

Outlook

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Singapore has closed its airport facilities to the public because of a cluster of COVID-19 infections there and the city-state cancelled a travel bubble with Hong Kong. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

“Looking ahead at the passenger business, we still are not seeing signs of immediate meaningful improvement in overall passenger demand. While we are disappointed with the postponement of the Hong Kong-Singapore Air Travel Bubble flights, we are nevertheless very encouraged by the demand for two-way, all-purpose, quarantine-free air travel flight arrangements among our customers. We look forward to the resumption of our Air Travel Bubble flights.

“The latest relaxation of quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated Hong Kong-based aircrew operating passenger flights as well as those operating cargo services is a welcome development that will progressively reduce our monthly cash burn and have a positive impact on our passenger and cargo business. Already, more than 80 percent of our pilots and over 40 percent of our cabin crew in Hong Kong have either booked or received their vaccination. We expect our May cargo schedule to gradually recover as more of our crew are fully vaccinated, and we are grateful for the enduring dedication of all our aircrew, who continue to do their jobs brilliantly during this challenging time. We also welcome the easing of quarantine requirements in Hong Kong for fully vaccinated travellers earlier this month, which is a crucial step in the return to normal international air travel.”

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