AviationOutlook less rosy for Cathay Pacific as Hong Kong is ‘effectively off the map’, says IATA chief.

For Asian carriers, terrific comeback from a terrible low

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Cathay Pacific has made drastic cuts to its operations in the wake of Hong Kong’s pandemic measures.
Cathay Pacific has made drastic cuts to its operations in the wake of Hong Kong’s pandemic measures. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/MatusDuda

Asia’s flagship airlines are in reasonably good shape as pandemic regulations ease and corporate travellers begin to trickle back on board.

But not all airlines are recovering at the same speed, according to Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, who told a Centre for Aviation (CAPA) Summit in the UK that Cathay Pacific was the long-haul carrier under most pressure to recover from the Covid pandemic.

“Looking at the future, the incumbents today will still be there,” Clark said, naming Thai Airways International, Qantas and Malaysia Airlines.

“You may, or may not, still have Cathay Pacific; that’s anybody’s guess,” he added.

Among Asia’s flag carriers, Cathay has been hardest hit, with tough quarantine measures in Hong Kong putting a lid on the long-haul travel that sustains the airline.

'Circuit breaker' rules mean any airline that brings in three or more infected passengers on a single flight is suspended from flying that route for seven days.

Emirates' Dubai-Bangkok-Hong Kong route has been suspended six times for a total of 77 days this year, according to Bloomberg.

Clark’s comments on Cathay Pacific mirror those by International Air Transport Association (IATA) director-general Willie Walsh, who says Hong Kong’s standing as a global aviation hub is under threat and the city is “effectively off the map”.

“I think it’s going to be difficult for Hong Kong to recover,” Walsh said. “The restrictions there [Hong Kong] have been very severe and have led directly to the cancellation of a lot of services with airlines effectively finding it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to operate there,” added Walsh.

CAPA had earlier praised the Singapore government for easing the Covid restrictions and opening travel lanes with many destinations.

“These steps are also helpful to SIA as it looks to rebuild its network and traffic. Full recovery may still be some way off, but SIA has probably moved further in this regard than any of its rivals in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Capacity gains have in turn resulted in its active fleet moving closer to pre-pandemic levels,” CAPA said.

“A significant caveat is that capacity is returning far faster than demand, but this will still put SIA in a good position when international demand does come back more strongly.”

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