Seat removal helps boost cargo at Cathay Pacific

By Damian Brett

A Cathay Pacific B747 freighter at Bahrain

Cathay Pacific saw its cargo volumes increase in July compared with a month earlier as it began flights using B777 aircraft with some seats removed.

The airline group said that cargo volumes in July increased by 10% compared with June to 102,129 tonnes. However, this is still 39.8% down on a year earlier as a result of the loss of “significant” belly capacity on a year ago.

Cathay Pacific Group chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said that cargo continued to perform better than its passenger business.

“Load factor remained high at 75.8%,” Lam said. “Certain markets performed particularly well, notably the Indian subcontinent, which recorded a noticeable uptick as local lockdown measures were eased.

“We also saw reasonably strong month-end rushes for airfreight demand in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

“Further to our existing efforts to increase available cargo capacity, since early July we have begun operating cargo-only passenger flights using select converted Boeing 777-300ER aircraft that have had some of the seats from the Economy Class cabin removed.

“This has enabled us to load shipments such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and garments in the passenger cabins inside fire-retardant cargo bags.”

Looking ahead, the airline group is predicting a prolonged recovery period.

“In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have to contend with a looming global recession and geopolitical tensions, which are expected to have a negative impact on both air travel and cargo demand. It is obvious that there will be no return to normal demand conditions any time soon,” said Lam.

Earlier this week, Cathay Pacific revealed its half-year figures. The group reported an operating loss of HK$8.7bn ($1.13bn) in what its chairman called the “most challenging” period for the group in its 70-year history.

Cargo proved to be the sole bright spot for the troubled group, which in recent months was the subject of a government bailout, with revenue for the segment reporting the only year-on-year increase.

Also in August, the carrier made changes to its cargo management team, appointing Tom Owen into the role of director of cargo.

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