Cathay Pacific Predicts Recruitment Will Match Capacity Ramp-Up

Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900
Credit: Rob Finlayson

Cathay Pacific is confident its hiring efforts are sufficient to support the airline’s plans to fully recover its pre-pandemic capacity levels.

During the carrier’s full-year earnings call, executives said Cathay is on track to achieve its ambitious goal of hiring 8,000 workers by the end of 2024. The target was set in mid-2022, and more than 2,000 workers were hired in that year, said Lavinia Lau, Cathay’s chief customer and commercial officer. The carrier plans to hire 3,000 employees in 2023, and the remainder will be recruited in 2024.

“Recruitment progress [is] in line with our plan,” for capacity growth, Lau said.

Staff attrition in all categories has returned to its pre-pandemic rate, Lau said. This is an improvement from the early years of the pandemic, when Cathay was experiencing higher-than-normal turnover in its pilot ranks.

Cathay Pacific plans to surpass 50% of 2019 capacity levels in March. The airline aims to increase capacity to 70% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, with a full recovery by the end of 2024.

The airline will have “sufficient front-line resources” to meet these targets, reiterated Greg Hughes, Cathay’s chief operations officer. He said Cathay is now interviewing a number of pilots who left the carrier during the pandemic and who are now looking to return.

As well as reactivating parked aircraft, Cathay is planning new investment in its fleet and cabin products, chairman Patrick Healy said. The airline is not yet commenting on the timing of these decisions, but it has previously indicated it was talking to manufacturers about replacements for its medium-haul Airbus A330 fleet.

Cathay had a total of 48 aircraft on order as of Dec. 31, 2022. The group has since had two aircraft delivered, with nine more due to arrive in 2023. The airline remains “committed to fleet renewal and expansion,” Hughes said.

Some of Cathay’s key markets are recovering quickly. The carrier plans to be back up to five daily flights to London when its summer schedule begins, which will be very close to pre-pandemic levels, CEO Ronald Lam said.

Cathay Group’s LCC subsidiary Hong Kong Express is seeing a particularly strong pickup in bookings, Lam said. The LCC is expected to be back to 100% of 2019 capacity levels by the end of March.

Cathay reported a net loss of HK$6.5 billion ($828 million) for 2022. However, most of the loss was due to its shares in associate companies, which are reported three months in arrears. The carrier’s investments in mainland China companies were affected by the pandemic operating environment during that period.

For the group’s airlines and subsidiaries—excluding associates—the net loss was down to HK$255 million. Healy said this “close-to-breakeven performance” represented a significant turnaround from the equivalent loss of HK$20.4 billion in 2020 and HK$3.8 billion in 2021.

The second half of 2022 was much stronger than the first, with Cathay achieving a half-year profit of HK$2.3 billion excluding results from associates.

Adrian Schofield

Adrian is a senior air transport editor for Aviation Week, based in New Zealand. He covers commercial aviation in the Asia-Pacific region.