Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is in talks with Boeing Co. and Airbus SE about expanding its fleet, seeking to bounce back from the Covid pandemic as the opening of Hong Kong airport’s third runway swells 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 on 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 used on longer routes and some regional services. Low-cost unit Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd. has an all-A320 family lineup.
After 2 1/2 bruising years during which the coronavirus crisis 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 rise 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 2019 tonnage this year.
Lam said Cathay is in active discussions on renewing its cargo fleet and is looking at both Boeing’s 777-8F and Airbus’s A350 freighter, confirming a Bloomberg report. New planes would be in addition to its 20 747 freighters, most of them the final iteration of the jumbo.
On the much-delayed 777X, which Cathay ordered in 2013, Lam said the airline has agreed a delivery plan with Boeing from 2025 and currently has no plans to reduce the size of its order.
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.
The Hong Kong Aircrew Officers’ Association warned Thursday that Cathay faces an unprecedented pilot shortage, particularly among the most senior crew, after mass resignations in response to harsher employment terms.
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.