Cathay Pacific Airways posted an eyebrow-raising net profit of HK$6.84 billion for the first half of the year, more than eight times the figure in the same period last year, as it rode a recovery in passenger numbers and cargo. The strong result, which surprised analysts, has prompted the company to launch a HK$73 billion acquisition of wide-body aircraft, the largest single investment by the carrier. 'I can say with confidence we have a strong belief in our business model and the future in Hong Kong [as an important air hub],' Cathay chairman Christopher Pratt said at the post-results press conference yesterday. The airline entered a preliminary contract to buy 30 long-range Airbus A350 jetliners, powered by Rolls-Royce engines, at a catalogue price of HK$60.84 billion. The aircraft will be delivered between 2016 and 2019. Cathay also intends to exercise the options to acquire six General Electric-powered Boeing 777s at an estimated cost of HK$12.48 billion, bringing the outstanding firm orders for the twin-jet planes to 18 from 12. The new aircraft will replace existing B747 and A340 jets as well as accommodate future passenger demand growth, Cathay chief executive Tony Tyler said. The airline has an option to buy 30 additional A350s in the future. Although the global economic outlook remains uncertain, air traffic demand in the Asia-Pacific has seen a boom over the past six to nine months. Cathay's net profit jumped to HK$6.84 billion from HK$812 million a year earlier, way above the market consensus of HK$4.5 billion and even surpassing most analysts' full-year predictions. 'Generally, our business in Hong Kong is more profitable in the second half than in the first half [owing] to seasonality reasons,' Pratt said. Cathay would like to see a better second half, given that forward bookings in the next several months remained strong, he said. Cathay employees will receive an ex-gratia payment of 14 days' salary as an advance profit share in the light of the positive result. Shares in Cathay soared 3.9 per cent to HK$18.08 yesterday. Stripping out the one-off gain of HK$2.165 billion from the disposal of its stakes in Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals and Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company, fuel-hedging losses and contributions from subsidiaries, operating profit for Cathay's core business comes in at HK$4.19 billion. Passenger revenue increased 25.7 per cent to HK$ 27.41 billion, while cargo revenue jumped 63.1 per cent to HK$ 11.84 billion. Meanwhile, Cathay's cargo joint venture with Air China is expected to take off in October, two months behind schedule owing to longer than expected approval times. The obstacle for Cathay is a slowdown in cargo demand, especially from the financially strapped euro zone, Nomura Securities transport analyst Jim Wong said. In the first half, nearly 30 per cent of sales were generated by the cargo division. Cathay will begin to take delivery of 10 B747-8 freighters from January. Fuel costs increased 51 per cent to HK$13.1 billion owing to a more than 40 per cent increase in jet fuel prices.