Buoyant Cathay outlines plans to increase fleet

Charlotte So

Cathay Pacific yesterday said that with increasing air traffic demand in sight, it is increasing its fleet this year.

The carrier said it would take delivery of five airliners this year, including four Boeing 777-300ERs and an Airbus 330-300 - the same number of new planes as last year, one of the peak years for aircraft delivery.

The carrier also deferred the mothballing of one of two Boeing 747-400s that it had been planning to retire.

'Most people believe that 2010 will be a better year than 2009, and I agree,' Cathay chief executive Tony Tyler was quoted as saying in the internal CX World magazine. 'However, it's not going to be an easy ride.'

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) predicts the global aviation industry would see large losses for the year, but the deficit would shrink to US$5.6 billion compared with the US$11 billion last year.

'Despite the signs of returning travel and freight demand, airlines have continued to be extremely cautious about capacity,' Iata said in a report released yesterday.

Since early 2008, passenger capacity has been cut by 7 per cent on international markets and freight capacity by 10 per cent.

Restoring rates and fares to their previous levels is the top priority of airline executives. Average air fares started to rise during the second half of last year but were still 10 to 15 per cent below the 2008 average, the airline trade body said.

Cathay finished 2009 with the highest passenger and cargo yield in December. It carried 5 per cent more passengers last month compared with the same period in 2008, paring the drop for last year to 1.6 per cent.

The Hong Kong division of Cathay attained the best performance in 16 months in December, as holiday travellers filled up 84 per cent of the flights to popular getaway destinations during the 15-day Christmas and New Year period.

Forward bookings for January and February were 'promising', the company said.

Because of the robust demand for air cargo, tonnage at Cathay surged 25 per cent year on year to 144,000 tonnes in December against a 3.3 per cent drop in capacity a year earlier.

The four new B777s will be used on flights to Toronto and Los Angeles after the summer schedule begins on March 28. The carrier will increase the number of weekly flights to Toronto to 10 from seven and add three more weekly flights to Los Angeles, making it 17 times a week.