Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is in talks with Boeing Co. and Airbus SE about expanding its fleet with the opening of Hong Kong airport’s third runway set to swell capacity.
The airline is exploring possibilities for adding both passenger aircraft and freighters, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said in an interview in London Thursday. Cathay would be seeking deliveries from 2025, when the new landing strip comes into full service.
While the company is keeping its options open, Lam said it would like to have consistency and synergy with its existing fleet, comprising Airbus A321neo jets for short-haul flights and A330s, A350s and Boeing Co. 777s on longer routes. Low-cost unit Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd. has an all-A320 family lineup.
After 2 1/2 bruising years during which the Covid
pandemic severely restricted operations, Cathay Pacific has grounds for optimism now that Hong Kong has finally dropped mandatory quarantine rules. While some virus restrictions remain, the carrier is positioning for a resurgence in travel.
“We have had some short term setbacks because of the pandemic, but I think we will come back strong,” Lam said. “In particular, we play a very key role connecting between Hong Kong and Europe and that role will not change and will only get stronger.”
Cathay is currently operating about 16% of pre-pandemic seating, set to increase to about one-third by the end of the year, Lam said. It plans to return to normal levels by the end of 2024 or early 2025, though HK Express will recover earlier. Freight capacity should reach two-thirds of the 2019 tonnage this year.
The group plans to hire 8,000 staff through next year across functions including pilots, cabin crew, check-in and ground handling, said the executive. That includes 4,000 at the main airline, a number that will still leave staffing only at 2009 levels. Employee numbers fell about 40% from the end of 2019.
For much of the pandemic the carrier was operating just 2% of 2019 passenger capacity as Hong Kong virtually outlawed international travel. It underwent a HK$39 billion ($5 billion) government-led recapitalization in 2020, shuttered regional arm Cathay Dragon and cut thousands of jobs.
Lam joined Cathay in 1996 and is seen as a possible successor to Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang when he steps down.