With traffic rebounding, Cathay Pacific Airways is accelerating the return of aircraft parked in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. But the Hong Kong carrier has still to settle on its longer-term fleet strategy, with the Airbus A380 among the contenders.

Cathay parked five passenger aircraft - Airbus A330/A340s and Boeing 747-400s - as well as two 747-200 freighters, in the months after the attacks and expected them to remain on the ground through this year. It will now return the passenger aircraft and one freighter in August to help meet demand.

Tony Tyler, corporate development director, notes that capacity is coming back everywhere, including on the transpacific. He adds that more capacity may return than the 25% originally cut.

Cathay has been adding to its fleet - it recently announced orders for three more A330-300s and another three Boeing 777-300s - but the long-haul fleet strategy is still in play. Tyler points out that Cathay's aircraft acquisition has been "somewhat opportunistic" over the past few years, with crises intervening each time that the airline was ready to take a long-term decision.

Cathay is still having a "good look" at the A380, although the airline has "no desire" to be a launch customer. There are also issues over utilisation, with few opportunities to supplement A380 long-haul flying with shorter intra-regional legs, as it does with existing types.

Secondhand 747s are an option, with Tyler raising doubts as to whether the proposed 747-400XQLR upgrade will be quiet enough or have sufficient range. Cathay would also want to see the Rolls-Royce Trent 600 powering the aircraft. Tyler also questions whether Boeing's Sonic Cruiser will be big enough for Cathay, which would want around 350 seats, or fast enough to attract the necessary fare premium. So the A340-600 and 777-300ER appear to be the front runners.

Overall the vision has not changed, adds Tyler, with "at least double daily to everywhere we fly" and high-frequency services to the major cities of Asia-Pacific "every couple of hours".

Source: Airline Business