Cathay’s traffic still hurting; airline putting new A321neo into service

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has seen its business plumment due to the city's strict COVID measures. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Cathay Pacific has released its traffic figures for June 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 40,651 passengers last month, an increase of 50 percent compared to June 2020, but a 98.7 percent decrease compared to the pre-pandemic level in June 2019. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) rose 60.5 percent year-on-year, but were down 98 percent versus June 2019. Passenger load factor decreased by 5.6 percentage points to 21.7 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), increased by 102 percent, but remained 92.2 percent down on June 2019 levels. In the first six months of 2021, the number of passengers carried dropped by 96.4 percent against an 85 percent decrease in capacity and a 95.8 percent decrease in RPKs, as compared to the same period for 2020. 

The airline carried 109,423 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, an increase of 17.4 percent compared to June 2020, but a 33.3 percent decrease compared with the same period in 2019. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) rose 10.3 percent year-on-year, but were down 28.7 percent compared to June 2019. The cargo and mail load factor increased by 5.6 percentage points to 80.6 percent, while capacity, measured in available freight tonne kilometres (AFTKs), was up by 2.7 percent year-on-year, but was down 44.4 percent versus June 2019. In the first six months of 2021, the tonnage dropped by 17.6 percent against a 31.9 percent drop in capacity and a 20.3 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: “While passenger demand continues to be far below pre-COVID-19 levels, June did show some small signs of improvement. We carried an average of 1,355 passengers per day last month and on 25 June we carried 2,011 passengers – the most of any day so far in 2021. We continued to progressively add more passenger services, resuming flights to Guangzhou, Seoul, Brisbane, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Vancouver and San Francisco. Capacity significantly increased by about 131 percent compared to May 2021; however, we still operated only about 8 percent of our June 2019 pre-pandemic capacity. Our recently resumed flights serving the Chinese mainland experienced particularly noteworthy demand, especially transit traffic to various long-haul destinations. We also saw increased demand from Taiwan and some Southeast Asian destinations. However, overall recovery continues to be affected by travel restrictions. The Hong Kong SAR government’s ban on flights to Hong Kong from the Philippines continued into June, while bans on flights from Indonesia and the UK came into effect on 25 June and 1 July, respectively.

“With quarantine restrictions easing following the high uptake of vaccinations among our aircrew, we were able to further reinstate our freighter capacity, especially on our long-haul routes,” Lam said. “We were also able to mount considerably more cargo-only passenger flights compared to the previous month, especially on short-haul routes to meet the reasonably strong regional demand. Overall, month-on-month tonnage growth matched our capacity growth, ensuring our net cargo load factor continued to average over 80 percent.

(PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

“Looking ahead on the passenger side, we will continue to progressively and cautiously add more services to our schedule. The suspension of flights from the Philippines, Indonesia and the UK has had an impact on overall demand; however, we are seeing improvements in other major markets. Student traffic demand to the US in particular is looking strong in the second half of August, and we are operating more frequencies on these routes to cater for it. Subject to travel restrictions being progressively lifted in Hong Kong and globally, we expect to operate approximately 30 percent of our pre-pandemic passenger capacity by the fourth quarter of 2021. Vaccination is key to the easing of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. We are very grateful to the 94 percent of our pilots and 76 percent of our cabin crew in Hong Kong who have already booked or received their vaccinations. So far this year, there have been zero positive tests among the more than 58,000 tests that our operating Hong Kong-based aircrew have taken in the days following their arrival in Hong Kong. Meanwhile regarding cargo, we are cautiously optimistic that overall demand will be strong for the remainder of the year. The gradual resumption of more passenger services will provide us with greater belly capacity, and should coincide with the usual cargo peak season. To provide additional lift we are also in the process of converting two more of our Boeing 777 passenger aircraft into cargo-only ‘preighters’ by removing seats from the Economy Class cabin, bringing our total to six ‘preighters’. These aircraft will provide support to our general cargo and post shipments around Asia.

Cathay putting new A321neo into service

(PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

Cathay Pacific’s new Airbus A321neo aircraft will enter into commercial service on 4 August 2021 when it takes its inaugural flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai (Pudong). The airline said it plans to deploy the aircraft on flights to Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Kaohsiung and Taipei during August. Cathay Pacific has already taken delivery of four A321neos, and will receive a further two during the second half of 2021. The airline will have a total of 16 A321neos in its fleet by the end of 2023. The aircraft has a total of 202 seats, including 12 in Business Class and 190 in Economy Class.

Cathay Pacific Group CEO Augustus Tang. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang said: “We’re incredibly excited to see our next-generation A321neo take to the skies for the first time next month as we continue to add more passenger services in the region. The single-aisle A321neo is the newest addition to our fleet and has been designed and fitted with an array of new features that offer the most enjoyable short-haul experience in the world to our customers. We look forward to deploying A321neos on more regional routes and welcoming customers on board.”

The A321neo is the first Cathay first aircraft to feature the newly designed Regional Business Class seat product. This next-generation hard-shell recliner seat provides a cocoon-like feel with divider screens for maximum privacy, while the 15.6-inch 4K Ultra-HD personal TV screens offer an incredible in-flight entertainment experience. Meanwhile, the Economy Class seats feature 11.6-inch 4K personal TV screens along with a generous recline, comfortable seat cushions and new adjustable headrests. With the A321neo, Cathay Pacific is the first airline in the world to provide 4K ultra-high-definition screens, a 4K video-on-demand experience as well as Bluetooth audio streaming (being introduced progressively) across all cabins. Customers will be able to watch 4K Hollywood blockbusters using their own Bluetooth-enabled headphones on flights. In addition, the A321neo will have a new and enhanced content selection providing one of the largest movie and TV libraries available on a regional single-aisle aircraft. And with high-speed Wi-Fi on board (being introduced progressively), customers can catch up on emails or stay in touch with friends and family.

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