COVID-19: Cathay Pacific traffic figures fall off a cliff

Airline will operate in April and May with ‘bare skeleton passenger flight schedule’ at 3% of normal capacity; adding cargo flights as mainland China restarts manufacturing

Some lessors, like Singapore-based BOC Aviation and Ireland-based Standard Chartered Aviation Finance, have used their parents' financial backing to support customers and bolster their fleets by adding aircraft via large sale-and-leaseback deals. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has decimated traffic figures at Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific, which released its March traffic figures today (16 April) showing “drastic decreases in the number of passengers carried and decreases in cargo as well although some manufacturing is restarting in China. The airline group said continued international travel restrictions quarantine requirements implemented in Hong Kong and other markets will continue to affect its results.

Cathay-trafficCathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon carried a total of 311,128 passengers last month, a decrease of 90 percent compared to March 2019. The month’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) also fell 84.3 percent year-on-year. Passenger load factor slid by 34.6 percentage points to 49.3 percent, while capacity, measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs), decreased by 73.2 percent, the airline said.

The two airlines carried 119,277 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 35.6 percent compared to March 2019. The month’s revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) also fell 29 percent year-on-year.

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

Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said: “Overall, we carried 90 percent fewer passengers in March and 52 percent fewer passengers in the first quarter than we did in the same periods last year. Though we remained agile in aligning capacity with demand, our load factor for the month nevertheless dropped to 49.3 percent only. We saw significant declines across all traffic types, though the drop in inbound passenger traffic was lessened in the third week of March, when we reinstated 13 flights to help residents and students from the UK and the US returning to Hong Kong. Passenger demand dropped rapidly and tremendously in late March following the introduction of arrival restrictions on all non-resident visitors to Hong Kong, including transit passengers. On each of the last two days of March we carried fewer than 1,000 passengers only.”

Lam said “while we continue to operate a full freighter schedule, our passenger flight reductions have had a significant impact on our overall cargo capacity. Our cargo volumes were down, but load factors and yield were up due to air cargo capacity reduction in the global market. To support global supply chains at this critical time, we have been adding cargo capacity in the form of more freighter flights as well as a total of 257 pairs of cargo-only passenger flights in March. We currently expect to operate a similar number of cargo-only passenger flights in April, including on some long-haul routes such as the Southwest Pacific where air cargo capacity is extremely tight.”

Matt Driskill
A screenshot of the virus tracking site at Johns Hopkins University. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The airline said the resumption of production in mainland China saw exports from Hong Kong and the mainland rebound following a weaker February. However, other trans-shipments were negatively impacted by lockdowns and emergency measures in various markets in the second half of the month, in particular the India sub-continent.

“Our commodity mix also changed with a surge in the transportation of medical supplies such as face masks, protective clothing, hand sanitiser and other pharmaceutical products. On the other hand, the volume of consumer goods such as garments and automobile parts declined,” Lam said.

“As the economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying, a recovery timeline in our customer demand remains impossible to predict. We still do not see an improvement in our advance passenger bookings and we are anticipating average daily passenger numbers to remain below 1,000 throughout April. On a typical day we would normally expect to carry some 100,000 passengers; earlier this week, this had dropped to 302 only on one day.

“In April and May, we will be operating a bare skeleton passenger flight schedule comprising 3 percent of our normal capacity. We are doing everything we can to reduce our expenditure and preserve cash for the coming months. We are exploring all options to ensure that the Cathay Pacific Group rides out this current storm, and is able to compete vigorously and to help Hong Kong recover when we emerge from this crisis.”

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Asian Aviation
Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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