Cathay Pacific released its traffic figures for March that continued to reflect the airline's substantial capacity reductions in response to significantly reduced demand as well as travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place in Hong Kong and other markets amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
Cathay Pacific carried 97,166 tonnes of cargo last month, an increase of 16.6% compared to March 2021, but a 47.5% decrease compared with the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
Month-on-month, this is also higher than the 65,126 tonnes of cargo recorded in February.
Hong Kong-based Cathay said the month's cargo revenue tonne-kilometers (RFTKs) decreased 28.4% year-on-year and were down 65.6% compared to March 2019.
The cargo load factor also decreased by 4.9 percentage points to 81.5%, while capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (AFTKs), was down by 24.1% year-on-year, and was down by 71.1% versus March 2019.
Cargo down year-on-year in Q1
Cathay said in the first three months of 2022, the tonnage decreased by 13.8% against a 49.2% drop in capacity and a 50.3% decrease in RFTKs, as compared to the same period for 2021.
"For cargo, our capacity on long-haul routes remained constrained by ongoing aircrew quarantine requirements; however, we were very pleased to have brought Atlanta, Houston, and Miami back online," commented Ronald Lam, chief customer, and commercial officer at Cathay.
He added that with reduced long-haul operations, the airline has used the available aircraft and crew to add capacity to its regional lanes — in particular, Northeast Asia and South Asia, where demand has been "relatively robust."
"Overall, our cargo flight capacity has recovered over 40% compared to the lowest point in January, although it remains just 29% of pre-COVID-19 levels," Lam added.
On the demand side, the Cathay executive said tonnage contribution from Hong Kong reduced in March, as cross-border trucking capacity remained constrained, and production in the southern part of the Chinese Mainland was affected due to ongoing anti-pandemic measures.
"Nevertheless, strong transshipment from other markets filled some of this gap, resulting in 49% tonnage growth compared to the previous month. The regional movement of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) shipments and other medical supplies continued to be active throughout the month," he added.
Similar cargo capacity in April
Meanwhile, Cathay welcomed the Hong Kong government's lifting of the transit ban and the place-specific suspension mechanism, and the rationalisation of the flight-specific suspension mechanism.
It also welcomed Hong Kong's "reduction of the mandatory quarantine period for both travellers and aircrew alike in April."
"However, travel and operational restrictions remain stringent, and we have only been able to achieve a modest increase in our passenger flight capacity," it said.
For cargo, the Hong Kong-based carrier said it expects "operational constraints" to persists. The airline will also focus on ramping up its long-haul operations.
"Regarding cargo, we will be operating a similar level of capacity in April as in March due to ongoing operational constraints. Having said that, we are continually looking to increase our long-haul cargo flight capacity where possible and we will resume limited freighter flights to Europe with Frankfurt coming back online from mid-April," Lam said.
"Regionally, we expect exports from Shanghai to be significantly reduced in light of the COVID-19 situation there. On the positive side, demand from Hong Kong should slowly recover as cross-border trucking bottlenecks ease, while the feed from other parts of our network remains healthy," he added.
Cathay also sounded optimistic about the long-term prospects of Hong Kong despite what it calls "short-term challenges."
"As Hong Kong's home carrier, we remain resolutely committed to keeping the flow of people and cargo between Hong Kong and the rest of the world safely moving, despite the difficult circumstances presented by COVID-19," Cathay said in its report.
"Although Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong continue to face many short-term challenges, the opportunities presented by the Greater Bay Area and the growth potential afforded by the opening of the third runway at Hong Kong International Airport will ensure that both our airline and our home hub will be highly competitive when the pandemic-related restrictions are lifted," it added.