Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Cathay Pacific Airways plans to boost its cargo business with additional freighters and the expansion of its 75%-owned cargo subsidiary Air Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Cathay's Hong Kong competitor Dragonair may soon be issued with licences to operate its own 747-200F cargo services. The airline has applied for permission to fly freight on routes out of Hong Kong.

In an interview with Flight International's sister on-line news service Air Transport Intelligence (ATI), Cathay chief executive David Turnbull says that AirHong Kong is likely to obtain at least one new aircraft, and that Cathay itself may lease more 747-200Fs to its subsidiary. Air Hong Kong operates three leased 747-200Fs on scheduled routes to Europe, Japan and the Middle East, as well as on its charter services.

Turnover from Cathay's freight business jumped 20.6% in the last calendar year, to a record HK$8.39 billion ($1.1 billion). Cathay's own freighter fleet includes four 747-200Fs and two -400Fs, plus the three -200Fs leased to Air Hong Kong. Three more 747-400Fs are on order for delivery this year and next. Turnbull says that cargo, which accounts for about 30% of Cathay's business, "may well run to 40%. I suspect we'll be ordering more [freighters]," he says.

Since March the Hong Kong-based carrier has carried freight for DHL overnight to Osaka, Seoul, Taipei and Singapore. Passenger numbers are limited on these flights, using aircraft which would otherwise remain parked.

Dragonair's all-cargo services are likely to initially serve Europe, with possible stopovers in Dubai. Japanese destinations are also being considered. One of the routes being examined is Hong Kong-Dubai-Manchester-Amsterdam, with a possible additional connection to Shanghai on the return leg.

The airline is in talks with Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo and other operators on wet-leasing up to two 747-200Fs, and is expected to unveil plans by mid-June.

Meanwhile, Turnbull has confirmed that Cathay is in talks to codeshare with China Eastern Airlines, and may even consider an equity stake in the mainland Chinese carrier. Turnbull says any tie-up would allow Cathay passengers to fly on Shanghai-based China Eastern's domestic services.

He denies that this is the start of direct competition with Dragonair, Hong Kong's only other passenger airline, which operates to 17 mainland Chinese cities.

He adds that Cathay is "open" to the idea of an equity partnership, but sources close to China Eastern say approaches from Cathay have so far been rejected. Turnbull adds that a partnership could either be bilateral, or through the BA-led oneworld alliance.

Source: Flight International