Cathay Pacific has confirmed it is in talks with airframers over potential orders for new medium-haul and cargo aircraft, as it continues to rebuild its operations after more than two years of depressed travel demand.
Speaking at a quarterly analysts’ briefing, chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam says the Hong Kong carrier is “looking at acquiring” more medium-haul jets “to fuel the growth for the group”.
On freighters, Lam, who will be promoted to airline chief on 1 January, says Cathay is “looking at more freighter capacity moving forward”, with any deliveries likely from 2025. He did not disclose the size of any potential order.
Lam first raised the prospect of new aircraft orders in an interview with Bloomberg in October, where he said the airline was “keeping its options open” with regard to new jets, but that deliveries would have to be from 2025, when Hong Kong airport’s third runway would be fully operational.
At the analysts’ briefing, Lam says Cathay has “enough long-haul aircraft”, citing the airline’s current fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs – which he notes “will be here to stay” – and Airbus A350s. The airline also has orders for A350s and the new 777-9.
The airline’s medium haul and regional fleet are anchored by A330s: the airline has 31 in-service -300s that are between seven and 21 years in age, according to Cirium fleets data. Cathay also has three 777-300s – aged between 16 and 20 years old – and new A321neos that operate regional routes.
Cathay has 20 747 freighters in operation, a mixture of -8Fs and -400ERFs which are between six and 15 years old.
In mid-November Cathay forecasted a “substantial” full-year loss for 2022, despite being cash positive and seeing good recovery progress through the year-end.
Cathay is projecting a return to pre-pandemic capacity levels around the end of 2024. By end-2023, the airline expects to operate at around 70% pre-pandemic capacity. It comes as Hong Kong eases onerous travel restrictions.
In its ramp-up for 2023, Lam warns of a “wide range of constraints” that could affect Cathay – including manpower issues – but stresses that these issues were not unique to the airline.
“Therefore…we believe this is a measured and responsible way…in managing our recovery path in the next few years. It’s not going to be easy because there will be many constraints as we have seen, but I think we are tackling it,” he told analysts.