A jump in transit customers boosted Cathay Pacific Airways' travel volumes in July, contributing to a 59 per cent monthly increase in passengers, the airline said on Friday.
The performance offered a slightly positive start to the second half of the financial year for the airline, which is receiving a government bailout to cope with the slump amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, it reported a record first-half loss of HK$9.87 billion (US$1.27 billion).
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The rise in Cathay's passenger numbers last month underscored the benefits from Hong Kong as a major airport transit hub, with air travel hammered by the global fight against Covid-19.
Hong Kong has allowed flight transfers since June 1, and the airport will further open to transit flights from mainland China from Saturday for two months. Previously, all transit services had been suspended from March 25.
"Passenger volume showed signs of slight improvement in the beginning of July, fuelled by a boost in the number of transit passengers via Hong Kong," Ronald Lam Siu-por, the airline's chief customer and commercial officer, said.
But the resurgence of Covid-19 in different parts of the world saw demand fall towards the end of July, Lam added.
The 55 per cent rise marked the largest increase in passengers that Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon have carried since March, after which the airline scaled back flights to a skeleton schedule.
July's volume, 42,984 passengers, was almost the size of May and June's passengers combined. In the same month last year, Cathay carried 4.43 million passengers.
Transit customers pre-coronavirus made up 50 per cent of the airline's passenger mix. During the pandemic, it has been closer to one third.
Fresh from a HK$39 billion recapitalisation, with the government making a significant investment, the company reiterated it was a long way from normal times.
"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," Lam said. "It is obvious that there will be no return to normal demand conditions any time soon."
The airline planned for a 92 per cent capacity reduction in August and September versus the same period last year, still the highest rate since April. Cathay also said it may manage to offer double-digit levels of passenger capacity by October.
Cathay noted the transit plan for flights from the mainland would offer a little extra help.
"This will help enhance our passenger volume via the Hong Kong hub, and offer essential connections from the Chinese mainland to different parts of the world," Lam said.
Health officials and experts say the health risks posed by transit passengers would be low, as the mainland was considered a low-risk zone.
Meanwhile, Cathay carried almost 40 per cent less cargo in July, because of a wider grounding of passenger flights. But it still generated more revenue from its cargo business than carrying passengers in the six months to June.
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