Cathay Pacific Airways has experienced three challenging Covid years but 2023 is shaping up to be a much better year for the Hong Kong flag carrier.

Eleven new aircraft will join the group fleet this year, and there is potential to reactivate another 24 currently parked jets.

Presenting its annual results today, Cathay said 2022 was “very much a year of two halves”.

The emergence of the Omicron variant at the beginning of the year led to increasingly draconian travel and operational restrictions imposed by local authorities. This significantly constrained Cathay’s ability to operate both passenger and freighter flights.

The challenge this posed for its business was exemplified on 12 March 2022 when Cathay carried just 58 passengers.

This was at a time when most of the rest of the world had fully reopened to travel and Cathay peers including Singapore Airlines (SIA), Qatar Airways and carriers from the US were reporting record revenues.

As Hong Kong’s out-of-touch Covid-19 prevention measures were progressively adjusted from May 2022 onwards, Cathay was able to slowly add back some of its flight capacity. The most significant adjustments came in September, when the quarantine requirements for both passengers entering Hong Kong and for Hong Kong-based aircrew were lifted.

Cathay anticipates that the group – comprising passenger airlines Cathay Pacific and low-cost HK Express – will be operating about 70% of its pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity by the end of 2023, with an aim to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024.

At the end of 2022, Cathay Pacific had 181 aircraft, HK Express had 26 aircraft and cargo subsidiary Air Hong Kong had 15 aircraft (a total of 222 aircraft).

Of those, 41 passenger aircraft remained parked in locations outside of Hong Kong, mostly in the Australian desert in Alice Springs. In 2022, Cathay brought back 24 aircraft that it had moved overseas for long-term parking to Hong Kong, and it says it will be bringing back more aircraft in line with operational requirements.

Cathay took delivery of five new Airbus A321neo and A350 aircraft in 2022, and the group anticipates a further 11 in 2023 comprising two A350-900s and nine A321neos.
More specifically, mainline Cathay will add both long-haul A350s and five A321neos, while the budget HK Express subsidiary will get four new A321neos.

Cathay began inducting single-aisle A321neo aircraft during the pandemic. This marked the first time the mainline carrier operated narrowbody aircraft, and it mirrored SIA commencing Boeing 737 single-aisle operations after it folded its SilkAir regional subsidiary into mainline SIA.

Cathay’s A321neos come in a two-class configuration seating 12 passengers in business class arranged 2-2, and 190 passengers in economy class in a 3-3 configuration.

These aircraft represent a significant premium cabin reduction vis-à-vis the A330-300s they are typically replacing. They are currently rostered on flights from Hong Kong to destinations including Denpasar (Bali), Manila and Phnom Penh.