The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) has cancelled its annual gathering due to take place in Hong Kong amid ongoing unrest in the Special Administrative Region.
AAPA director general Andrew Herdman and Cathay Pacific chief executive Augustus Tang expressed their sincere apologies to all invited guests for the inconvenience caused with the decision not to hold the event.
“This was a very difficult decision, given our commitment to organise this important industry event, but reflects the unpredictability of the situation in Hong Kong,” Herdman and Tang said in a letter to all AAPA Assembly of Presidents delegates on Wednesday evening.
“At the same time, the well-being of our delegates and guests has always been of paramount importance.
“We share your disappointment and appreciate your understanding.”
Cathay Pacific was the host airline for the 2019 AAPA Assembly of Presidents, which had been scheduled for November 21-22.
Hong Kong has been rocked by massive demonstrations in recent months that first began when people filled the city’s streets in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that may have allowed those suspected of crimes being sent to China for trial.
While Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has removed the bill from the legislative program, the street marches continued and turned violent as protesters clashed with police and other groups.
In addition to the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the demonstrators were calling for the Hong Kong government to retract its description of the protests as riots, drop criminal chargers against protesters arrested and release those in detention, hold an independent inquiry into the actions of the Hong Kong police, and implement universal suffrage.
Demonstrations took their campaign to Hong Kong airport, resulting in scores of cancelled flights and tightened security measures.
And the situation on the ground has escalated in the past week, leaving large parts of the city crippled.
Lam has described Hong Kong as being on the “brink of no return”.
Cathay Pacific says outlook challenging and uncertain
The ongoing turmoil has had a major impact on Cathay Pacific and its regional wing Cathay Dragon, which reported a 7.1 per cent drop in passenger traffic for October, compared with the prior corresponding period.
Meanwhile, average load factors – an industry term measuring how full flight are – fell four percentage points to 77.6 per cent.
And there was little sign of things changing in the period ahead. Cathay Pacific group chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said the short-term outlook was challenging and uncertain.
“Our advanced bookings continue to show weakness in both inbound and outbound Hong Kong traffic for the rest of 2019, partly offset by moderately increased transit passengers via Hong Kong,” Lam said in the company’s monthly traffic report published on Wednesday.
“Overall we foresee a challenging remainder of 2019 for our airlines. We expect our second-half financial results will be significantly below those of our first-half.
“Despite these short-term challenges, our strong commitment to the long-term development of Hong Kong and our airlines remains the same.”
The drop in demand was most significant on flights between Hong Kong and mainland China, where revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) were down 21.9 per cent in October compared with the prior corresponding period.
On a more positive note, European and south west Pacific – which covers Australia and New Zealand – routes posted RPK growth of 5.4 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.
Lam said Cathay Pacific had reduced capacity between two and four per cent compared with its original schedule from August to October.
Further, capacity reductions of between six and seven per cent were slated for November and December.
“In October, demand for travel into Hong Kong remained weak with our inbound passenger traffic seeing a year-on-year decline of 35 per cent, consistent with the trend seen in both August and September,” Lam said.
“Mainland China routes in particular felt significant pressure with weak travel sentiment to Hong Kong by mainland tourists.”
In terms of the cargo market, Cathay Pacific reported a 5.9 per cent decline in revenue tonne kilometres (FTK) for October.
Despite the reported figures, Lam said there were some encouraging signs in cargo.
“Cargo volume continued to improve as the market entered into its peak season of the year, with demand picking up after the National Day holidays in October,” Lam said.
“This began with an uptick in raw materials and machinery parts into mainland China, followed by encouraging exports from mainland China and Hong Kong, especially into trans-Pacific and European markets.
“Month-on-month tonnage growth was recorded across all sales territories. We anticipate this positive momentum continuing through mid-December. However, overall cargo yield remained significantly below that of the same time last year.”
The situation in Hong Kong has also impacted Australia’s two largest carriers Qantas and Virgin Australia.
In August, Qantas said it had reduced capacity between Australia and Hong Kong by seven per cent through the use of smaller aircraft.
Meanwhile, Virgin Australia announced in October it would end nonstop flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong in February 2020.