Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE


Cathay Pacific Airways is to buy and lease more aircraft this year as it revives plans to double its passenger traffic as the economic situation improves in Asia.

The airline confirms statements made to the Hong Kong press by Cathay chairman James Hughes-Hallett, and to an aerospace industry meeting by chief executive David Turnbull, that it is likely to place further orders this year. Cathay says it is considering "four-engined or twin-engined options", and looking at short-term leases and longer-term expansion.

The airline says that it may take more Airbus A340-300s or Boeing 777-300s, and is also interested in proposed ultra-long haul models from both manufacturers to fly transpacific routes: the A340-500/600, and the Boeing 777-200X/300X. Cathay declines to confirm speculation that it may lease A340-300s from Gulf Air this year, although industry sources say the carrier is interested.

The proposed expansion is a revival of Cathay growth plans stalled in 1997 by the onset of the economic slump and the handover of Hong Kong to China by the UK. Turnbull says the airline hopes to increase annual passenger traffic to 20 million people, compared with 10.8 million in 1998. Cathay says there is no firm timeframe to achieve this, but hopes to reach its target "in the next few years".

Yet, despite the economic recovery and corresponding increases in traffic, some analysts advocate caution by airlines responding to increasing economic optimism in Asia with ambitious growth plans.

"Yields are flat, and are unlikely to show much improvement this year. But there are opportunities to open new routes if one is selective, and if [the airlines] can keep their costs down," says Salomon Smith Barney analyst Peter Negline.

Late last year, Cathay leased three A340-300s from Air China. It also ordered three new A330-300s and two Boeing 747-400 freighters for delivery in 2000 and 2001.

Source: Flight International