Andrzej Jeziorski/HONG KONG

Cathay Pacific Airways is to announce an order for new aircraft to serve Asian routes by mid-May. The move comes as the Hong Kong carrier revealed what analysts call a "very strong financial result" for last year.

David Turnbull, Cathay's deputy chairman and chief executive, confirms the order will be revealed "within six to eight weeks". The deal will cover aircraft "operating around the Asia-Pacific region", which Peter Negline, an industry analyst for Salomon Smith Barney in Hong Kong, says is likely to translate into additional Airbus A330s and/or Boeing 777s.

"This is being driven partly by the DHL requirement, for which it will need extra capacity," says Negline. Cathay has recently launched an overnight express-freight partnership with DHL, initially covering 32 weekly flights to Osaka, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei.

Turnbull says the order will not include the airline's much-anticipated ultra-long-haul aircraft requirement. "We will have ultra-long- haul aircraft as we plan to be at the forefront of ultra-long-haul routes," says Turnbull. He adds that the aircraft, which will be Airbus A340-500 or Boeing 777X types, will probably enter the fleet around 2003.

The carrier reported a profit attributable to shareholders of HK$2.19 billion ($281.3 million) for the full year of 1999, compared with a HK$542 million loss in 1998. Turnover reached HK$28.7 billion - a 7.9% improvement on the previous year. Airline chairman James Hughes-Hallett says the result reflects "a strong second half, due to seasonal factors and a return to growth in the Asian economies".

Passenger load factors rose from 67.5% in 1998 to 71.4% in 1999, although yields were kept down because of intense competition putting pressure on fares, and significant rises in fuel prices. The cargo business set a turnover record of HK$8.39 billion, up 20.6% on 1998.

Source: Flight International