The reduced capacity is due to ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Hong Kong to contain COVID-19. During April, Cathay Pacific carried 22,404 passengers, an increase of 63.2% when compared to the same month a year ago. When compared to pre-pandemic levels in April 2019, passenger numbers were down a staggering 99.3%.
These April figures equate to weak passenger demand for flights, with Cathay Pacific only carrying 747 passengers per day. During April, they cautiously reinstated capacity by resuming regular flights to several cities in mainland China and Perth and Melbourne in Australia. Overall capacity increased by 21% compared to March, even though better, these numbers still represent a decline of 96.8% compared to April 2019.
In April, Cathay Pacific operated more flights to London after increasing demand from students studying in the United Kingdom. The airline also flew two special repatriation flights to London Heathrow (LHR) to bring home Hong Kong citizens later in the month.
Fear of the new Kent strain of the virus led the Hong Kong authorities to ban flights from the UK on December 25. This stranded many people in the UK and forced others to get home via third countries.
The ban on flights from the UK was lifted on May 7 following the UKs successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which now has seen 57 million people receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Despite the lifting of the flight ban, people arriving in Hong Kong must produce a negative PCR test taken before departure and another after arriving in the former British Colony. They must also quarantine for 21 days in a government-approved hotel and have three more PCR tests before a final one after being in Hong Kong for 26 days.
Cathay Pacific was encouraged by an uptick in passengers from the mainland following the Hong Kong government’s Return2HK scheme. The scheme allows Hong Kong residents to return to Hong Kong from mainland China and Macao without quarantine. Because of this, Cathay Pacific said they would resume flights to Hangzhou and Fuzhou at the end of May.
When speaking about the cargo side of operations and the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines, Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said:
“On the cargo side, while we welcomed the easing of quarantine restrictions for cargo aircrew in Hong Kong in mid-April, the positive impact of the relaxation was not immediately realized due to crew rostering lead time and our overall capacity last month remained significantly affected.
“The number of freighter and cargo-only passenger flights that we operated was lower than at any point since the COVID-19 pandemic began, limiting our ability to provide more lift to what was a reasonably buoyant cargo market, particularly on long-haul routings. This reduction in capacity together with the firm market led to a high load factor of 83%.
“Our vaccine solution has gathered momentum, and we surpassed the milestone of shipping 15 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world in mid-April. We have also seen surges in demand for related medical and healthcare supplies, and we are focused on maximizing our available capacity to facilitate the movement of these essential shipments.”
Cathay Pacific said that it did not see any signs of improvement regarding passenger travel and was disappointed that the much anticipated Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble has been postponed yet again. A safe travel corridor between the two Asian financial capitals was supposed to start yesterday but was delayed due to increased COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
Cathay Pacific has probably suffered the worst being a one-hub long-haul airline with no domestic flights of all the airlines worldwide. The pro-democracy protests in September 2019 were to blame for a decrease in people visiting Hong Kong.
Then the coronavirus packed a knockout punch that had Cathay Pacific asking for government aid. Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules don’t help either, meaning Cathay Pacific best hope is that travel bubbles like the proposed one with Singapore get up and running sooner rather than later.