Cathay’s most optimistic outlook is for half capacity in 2021

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(Oct 19): Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd hopes a recovery in travel demand will allow it to operate closer to 50% of its pre-pandemic capacity later next year, provided there’s an effective COVID-19 vaccine widely adopted in its key markets.

The Hong Kong-based carrier expects to operate at about 10% of typical capacity for the rest of 2020 and well below a quarter in the first half of 2021, Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said in a statement Monday as the airline released another bleak set of monthly passenger figures.

“Among the multiple scenarios studied, this one is already the most optimistic that we can responsibly adopt at this moment,” Lam said of the capacity forecasts.

The airline and its Cathay Dragon unit flew just 47,061 passengers in September, down 98.1% from a year earlier. The two operated 1,283 flights during the month, compared with 19,292 in September 2019. The duo’s passenger load factor was only 24.9%.

The two airlines carried 109,453 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 36.6%.

Cathay is expected to unveil details of a strategic review soon, with some reports suggesting job cuts could be announced as early as this week. The company, which posted a HK$9.9 billion (US$1.3 billion) loss in the first half, has for months been working on the review as it struggles to get through the coronavirus crisis, which it’s called the most challenging period in its history.

“September rounded off what has been an incredibly difficult summer, traditionally the peak passenger travel season of the year,” Lam said Monday. Cathay operated at 9% capacity during the month, up from 8% in August.

Passenger numbers averaged just 1,568 last month, Lam said.