Cathay Pacific sees clearer skies
Carrier upbeat on full resumption once Hong Kong lifts mandatory quarantine
Cancellation of the mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong is the key to recovery for Cathay Pacific as the airline has prepared both seat capacity and is recruiting more air crew for business resumption.
Dominic Perret, regional general manager for Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific at Cathay Pacific, said there are positive signs for a full reopening as Hong Kong recently lifted quarantine requirements for local air crews, from the former three-day hotel quarantine.
In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Perret said the Hong Kong-based airline, which has operated its Bangkok service for 76 years, has gradually resumed its services from Hong Kong to Bangkok with five flights per week.
The airline will increase the frequency to twice daily in October, when compared to robust traffic of 10 flights a day to Bangkok.
"We are awaiting a clear roadmap for reopening. If quarantine for inbound passengers is lifted, we should be able to resume direct flights from Hong Kong to Phuket as the route was famous among travellers from Hong Kong," he said.
Mr Perret said Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia were the fastest growing destinations in terms of the resumption of flights.
The average load factor for Bangkok flights hit 70% despite entry restrictions and higher airfares of around 15-10% compared to before the pandemic, the surging price of fuel and limited seat capacity in the aviation industry overall.
Due to the unpredictable situation, the airline has to be agile and be able to spontaneously adjust its schedule every time a rule is changed, particularly regarding entry restrictions.
Even though it cannot pinpoint the period of full recovery, it has started preparing services to cater to a surge in travel demand which is believed to be very strong once quarantine is entirely set aside.
Cathay Pacific still has a fleet of 50 aircraft parked in Alice Springs in the middle of Australia.
He said the airline is in the process of retraining pilots and bringing idle aircraft back into active operation. At present, Bangkok flights are served by Airbus A350s.
To avoid the manpower shortage experienced by many European carriers, Cathay Pacific will recruit 4,000 new staff, of which 700 will be pilots, within two years.
It currently has 50 crew members based in Bangkok.
Mr Perret said while passenger flights were able to gradually return in the past two years of the pandemic, cargo services had replaced passenger flights as the main source of revenue, particularly for Southeast Asia in 2021 which was the record year for Cathay Pacific. It is continuing to perform well in the first half of this year.
From Cathay Pacific's interim recently announced, the revenue contribution from cargo services globally was 75%.
"This is a very different situation from before the pandemic. Last year, we had 3,850 cargo flights in Southeast Asia, of which 10% were from the freighter fleet. Of the remaining 90%, some 70% of that was carried through cargo on passenger flights which is a very important part of our business in Thailand," he said.
However, Mr Perret said if passenger flights can strongly rebound from next year, the revenue contribution of this part will be more balanced.
Promotions will remain a booster for this market as the airline is offering a special airfare of less than 9,000 baht this month to attract both passengers to this route and those who seek connecting flights to Europe and North America via the hub in Hong Kong.