Holiday bookings give airlines relief
By KEITH WALLIS
THE Christmas-New Year holiday period is set to provide a much-needed fillip for airlines faced with falling passenger numbers and turbulent financial markets.
Airline spokesmen said holiday business this year would be at least as good as it was last year, and several forecast better-than-average loads.
Cathay Pacific Airways has won Civil Aviation Department (CAD) approval for an extra 32 flights during the period.
Cathay has been hit hard by the drop in the number of travellers visiting the SAR, especially Japanese tourists. Recently, it has had to cancel flights on some routes.
Cathay Pacific spokesman Kwan Chuk-fai said it received 25 to 30 per cent of the additional landing and take-off slots available for added services in the period.
'Most [of the extra flights] are to Bangkok. There are a few flights to Seoul, Japan and Manila,' he said.
The busiest period is between December 24 and January 4, when an extra two or three flights a day are scheduled.
South Korea is also proving a popular destination, partly because of the declining value of the won and also because it has the region's top skiing resorts.
For Hong Kong people, Korea was now quite cheap, Korean Air reservations manager Susanna Lee said. The airline won approval to fly another two charters.
Asiana Airlines, Korea's second airline, said it was fully booked over the Christmas period.
'The passenger load is better than in previous years,' its Hong Kong general manager, Kim Jong-jin, said. 'During December, reservations have been extremely good. We have a capacity to fly 10 flights a week with an average of 250 people a flight. We have been fully booked.' Mr Kim said reservations were so strong, the airline had requested permission from the CAD to fly extra services on three days, although it had not yet received confirmation.
Strong demand for flights between Sydney and Hong Kong on Australia's Ansett Airlines over Christmas meant it also applied to the CAD for extra slots.
However, Ansett's general manager for Hong Kong, southern China and Macau, Robert Evans, said the application had been rejected.
'Last year, Ansett quickly got additional capacity and added extra flights. This year, we applied for it but it wasn't granted,' Mr Evans said.
He did not say why the request, made through an airline pooling system managed by Cathay Pacific, had been thrown out.
But sources said CAD believed that with three airlines flying direct services, and other carriers, including Thai International and Philippine Airlines, offering indirect flights, there was enough passenger-carrying capacity on the route.
This has not deterred Cathay Pacific from planning to increase the number of direct flights between Hong Kong and Sydney from 10 to 14 a week starting next year.
Virgin Atlantic Airways said it was 'business as usual' and all flights between London and Hong Kong during the Christmas period were full.