Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific released its traffic figures for February 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. The airline earlier had announced that it suffered a record annual loss of HK$21.65 billion (US$2.79 billion), because of the curtailment of international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as restructuring costs and fleet write-downs. The 2020 loss compared with 2019 profit of HK$1.69 billion.
Cathay Pacific carried a total of 21,134 passengers last month, a decrease of 97.9 percent compared to February 2020. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) fell 98 percent year-on-year. Passenger load factor dropped by 39.2 percentage points to 13.9 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), decreased by 92.4 percent. In the first two months of 2021, the number of passengers carried dropped by 98.7 percent against a 92 percent decrease in capacity and a 98.5 percent decrease in RPKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.
The airline carried 82,297 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 30.7 percent compared to February 2020. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) fell 26.2 percent year-on-year. The cargo and mail load factor increased by 13 percentage points to 79.5 percent, while capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was down by 38.3 percent. In the first two months of 2021, the tonnage fell by 29.4 percent against a 39.7 percent drop in capacity and a 23.8 percent decrease in RFTKs, as compared to the same period for 2020.
Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “February was a particularly challenging month with the introduction of new mandatory quarantine measures for our Hong Kong-based aircrew from 20 February. This has had a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger markets. Even before that, passenger demand was very weak over the Chinese New Year holiday. Daily passenger numbers trended downwards throughout the month, reaching a considerable low of just 348 passengers carried on 22 February. We carried an average of just 755 passengers per day in February, a significant decline from the already low 981 passengers we carried per day the previous month. Overall, our February passenger capacity was down 41 percent compared to January and load factor was static at just 13.9 percent.”
Lam also said the airline saw strong cargo demand in the first 10 days of February driven by the pre-Chinese New Year holiday rush, particularly in the Chinese mainland market. “Demand did begin to recover towards the end of the month, but this was impacted by the introduction of the tightened crew quarantine measures. These measures also have a notable impact on our capacity and therefore our tonnage carried. Overall in February, capacity dipped month-on-month by 23 percent, while load factor remained high at 79.5 percent.”
Lam said the outlook for the airline “remains highly uncertain and with the new quarantine requirements for our Hong Kong-based aircrew remaining in place, we will continue to operate a skeleton passenger flight schedule until at least the end of this month. We anticipate that the average number of passengers carried per day in March will remain low at below 600. We have said that we expect to operate well under a quarter of pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity in the first half of 2021, and below 50 percent for the entire year, and this projection remains largely valid. We are still in a very dynamic situation and we will have to continue to be agile in our response. Regarding cargo, we are well-placed to handle future COVID-19 vaccine shipments and continue assisting with the global rollout of vaccines. Despite our immediate challenges, we expect to see a strong cargo performance in 2021, much as we did in 2020.”