Cathay Pacific: Full Pre-Pandemic Capacity Two Years Away

Credit: Rob Finlayson

Cathay Pacific Group, which includes Cathay Pacific and HK Express, aims to be back to operating pre-pandemic capacity levels by the end of 2024.

The carrier has finally been able to properly start rebuilding its network following the easing of tight COVID-19 restrictions by the Hong Kong government in late September. Cathay said it anticipates operating around 33% of pre-pandemic capacity by the end of this year. The airline said it will be back to 76% of 2019 capacity levels by the end of 2023.

As recently as March, Cathay was only flying 2% of pre-pandemic capacity levels. In August, capacity was around 15% of 2019 levels.

The airline’s capacity targets largely align with those of Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). Speaking at Routes World 2022 in Las Vegas in October, HKG executive director of airport operations Vivian Cheung Kar-fay said the airport does not expect to see pre-pandemic levels of traffic return until 2025. By the end of 2022, the airport expects to be handling about 30% of pre-pandemic traffic levels. By the end of 2023, HKG anticipates handling about 60% of 2019 traffic levels.

“By 2025, the flow will come back,” Cheung Kar-fay said. “We’ll probably catch up by then.”

Cathay CEO Augustus Tang said in a statement: “As the COVID-19 situation eases, airlines around the world have been rebuilding their capacity. This requires the global aviation ecosystem, including airports, suppliers and our own airlines, to undertake a substantial amount of preparation with regards to crew and ground employees, aircraft reactivation and recruitment.”

Cathay was particularly hampered during the pandemic by rules that required flight crew to automatically go to quarantine centers upon arrival regardless of vaccination or testing status, making it challenging to operate any kind of consistent schedule. Cheung Kar-fay said Cathay is finding it “challenging recruiting pilots” as it endeavors to rebuild its network.

Tang emphasized that Cathay has “sufficient pilots, cabin crew and operational employees to support our current flight schedules, and we are confident that our ongoing recruitment plans will ensure this remains the case throughout the recovery. The short-term bottlenecks lie in the re-certification of pilots who have not been flying regularly for a long period of time and the reactivation of aircraft. We have been bolstering our capabilities to expedite this process.

Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp is a Contributing Editor to the Aviation Week Network.