In Focus
AVIATION | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific passenger traffic dropped in February

Average number of passengers per day in March expected to hit below 600.

Cathay Pacific carried 21,134 passengers in February, representing a 97.9% YoY decline due to weak demand as well as continued travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.

“February was a particularly challenging month with the introduction of new mandatory quarantine measures for our Hong Kong-based aircrew from 20 February,” Cathay Pacific Group Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said.

“This has had a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger markets. Even before that, passenger demand was very weak over the Chinese New Year holiday,” he added.

He noted there was a downward trend in daily passenger number in February, reaching a considerable low of 348 carried on 22 February. The average passenger per day was recorded at 755, significantly lower that 981 average passengers per day in January.

February’s revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) were down 98% compared to the same month last year. Passenger load dropped by 39.2 points to 13.9%, whilst capacity declined by 92.4%.

For the first two months of the year, passengers carried slipped by 98.7% against a 92% and 98.5% decrease from the same period in 2020 in capacity and RPKs, respectively.

Cathay Pacific carried a total of 82,297 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, 30.7% lower than in February 2020. The revenue freight tonne kilometres (RFTKs) this month also fell 26.2% YoY.

Cargo and mail load factor rose by 13 points to 79.5%, whilst capacity dropped by 38.3%. In the first two months of 2021, the tonnage fell by 29.4% against a 39.7% drop in capacity and a 23.8% decrease in RFTKs.

“We saw strong cargo demand in the first 10 days of February driven by the pre-Chinese New Year holiday rush, particularly in the Chinese mainland market. As a result, we saw increased use of our Priority LIFT product across the network as customers sought space for their time-sensitive shipments,” Lam said.

Lam added that demand started to recover by the end of the month. However, this was affected by the tightened quarantine measures on cabin crews.

In light of the weak demand, uncertainty over international travel and the fresh quarantine measures imposed on its crew, Cathay Pacific expects the average number of passengers carried per day will remain below 600.

“We have said that we expect to operate well under a quarter of pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity in the first half of 2021, and below 50% for the entire year, and this projection remains largely valid. We are still in a very dynamic situation and we will have to continue to be agile in our response,” he said.

The Cathay Pacific Group suffered a $21.6b loss in 2020 as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation sector persisted.

Despite its March outlook on passenger traffic, the airline noted it is well-positioned in handling shipment of COVID-19 vaccines.

Cathay Pacific in February led the shipment of a million doses of Sinovac vaccine and a million more of vaccine developed by Fosun Pharma/BioNTech.

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