Cathay Pacific plans to grow its presence in Australia with larger aircraft, including potentially the Airbus A350-1000, as it works within the available traffic rights for Hong Kong-based airlines.
The oneworld alliance member operates the maximum allowable number of 70 flights a week for Hong Kong flag carriers to Australia’s four major gateways of Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney under the current bilateral air services agreement between the two countries.
As a result, Cathay Pacific has sought to expand in Australia through upgauging to larger equipment, which in recent times has meant swapping out 251-seat Airbus A330-300s with either 280-seat A350-900s or three-class, 340-seat Boeing 777-300ERs.
Cathay Pacific general manager for South West Pacific Rakesh Raicar said the use of larger aircraft has allowed the airline to add capacity without mounting extra flights.
“We have got allocations for 70 flights per week within the four big cities and we have completely utilised that,” Raicar told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
“We are very happy with the arrangement that we have right now in South West Pacific.”
Its nonstop flights to Cairns and Adelaide do not count towards the cap.
Cathay Pacific will have yet another aircraft option for the Australian market later this year when it takes delivery of its first A350-1000, which has 334 seats.
While the airline announced the inaugural route for the three-class A350-1000 would be Hong Kong-Washington DC – which at 7,085nm would be the longest flight by distance in its network – starting in September, Raicar said Sydney was under consideration as a potential future destination for the next-generation widebody.
Currently, Cathay’s four daily flights between Hong Kong and Sydney is split between three 777-300ER services and one A330-300 rotation.
“That one flight we are still operating with the A330, I don’t need to make any guesses what the planning could be for 2018,” Raicar said.
“It’s not confirmed, but I would say that’s an ideal candidate for an A350-1000, so Sydney might see an A350-1000 this year.
“It is in the planning stage. We are very gung-ho about it.”
Melbourne too looks set for a capacity boost as a 777-300ER potentially replaces the A330-300 on one of Cathay’s three daily flights. (The other two daily flights are operated by A350-900s.)
Eventually, all A330-300 services to Australia were likely to be upgauged to either the 777-300ER, A350-900 or A350-1000.
“That’s the plan for South West Pacific,” Raicar said.
“In that sense we are well covered for 2018 and 2019 as we speak.”
Cathay Pacific began A350-900 service in May 2016 and currently has 22 of the type, with four more on the way. Meanwhile, the airline has 20 A350-1000s on order, with deliveries starting later in 2018 and running through to 2021.
Airbus said it late January it would bring the largest variant of its A350 family to Sydney and Auckland as part of a demonstration tour across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East.
The aircraft, A350-1000, MSN065 F-WLXV, is due to reach Sydney following its appearance at the Singapore Airshow, where it will be on static display from February 6 to 8.
It will also stop in Auckland after Sydney.
Cathay Pacific is currently working through a transformation, or cost-cutting drive, as part of efforts to turn around a first half loss for calendar 2017.
The Hong Kong-based airline, and others, have battled the rapid international expansion of Chinese airlines and the ongoing rise of Middle East carriers offering long-haul to long-haul connections through their hubs, which have bitten into previously lucrative markets.
In particular, the rapid growth of Chinese carriers on international routes has reduced the number of passengers from China transiting through Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong hub.
And at the budget end, Asian-based low-cost carriers have won passengers happy to pay lower fares for a no-frills product on short- and medium-haul routes.
Further, the recent economic jitters – both in China and elsewhere – had led to a significant reduction in premium corporate travel in business and first class, particularly on long-haul routes.
Under chief executive Rupert Hogg, Cathay Pacific has sought to regain lost ground through an overhaul that included a reorganisation of the business, hundreds of staff layoffs and other cost reduction efforts.
Raicar described 2017 as a difficult year as those at the airline worked to return the airline to profitability.
However, he said things were looking up, noting Cathay was growing its network to new destinations in 2018 including Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Naning and A350-1000 launch destination Washington DC.
Cathay Pacific also started seasonal flights to Christchurch in December 2017.
“We are hoping to see light at the end of the tunnel by 2019,” Raicar said.