Cathay Pacific sees lucrative Taiwan market under threat; more flights to Paris and Jakarta

Image: Cathay Pacific
Growing cooperation between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments is bad news for Cathay Pacific; Hong Kong has traditionally been the most popular intermediate point between the two countries and Cathay Pacific currently operates 15 daily flights to Taipei.

This week should be a good one for passenger demand on Cathay Pacific as the Chinese New Year (year of the ox) began on Monday 26 January. However, the growing co-operation between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments regarding non-stop flights between the two countries may be good news for passengers and airlines in those countries but it is bad news for the Hong Kong based airline. Traditionally passengers wishing to travel between the two countries have had to go via an intermediate point, and Hong Kong has been the most popular.

The importance of this link can be seen by the fact that even now Cathay Pacific operates 15 daily flights to Taipei. The next most served destination on its network is Singapore with just six daily departures.

Chart: Cathay Pacific 1992-07
Source: ICAO

Cathay Pacific’s traffic has grown strongly in recent years after the significant disruption caused by the SARS outbreak of 2003. Traffic bounced back well in 2004 and in the following three years passenger growth averaged over 10%. Only since August 2007 has passenger growth fallen consistently below 10%, while in 2008 Cathay’s passenger numbers were down year-on-year in April and July. It should be noted that on Cathay’s website traffic data is only reported for Cathay Pacific and Dragonair combined. For the two airlines combined traffic was up 7.3% to 24.96 million in 2008.

Chart: Cathay Pacific Seasonality
Source: ICAO

The impact of SARS can clearly be seen on the seasonality profile of 2003. In May 2003 passenger numbers were around one-fifth of what they should have been. Traffic did not return to normal levels until August.

41 non-stop destinations plus four with stops

Image: Chennai Route Launch
Cathay Pacific’s most recent route launch was to Chennai – one of India’s most important industrial and commercial centres. The airline now operates 14 weekly flights to Delhi, 10 to Mumbai and four to Chennai.

With its fleet of 103 wide-body passenger aircraft, Cathay Pacific currently serves 41 destinations non-stop from Hong Kong plus an additional four via an intermediate stop. The most recent route additions have been Chennai in India (which was started in June 2008) and Toronto (which became a non-stop destination in January 2008). Apart from Taipei the routes with the most daily flights are:

Flight frequency Destination
6 per day Singapore
5 per day Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo Narita
4 per day London Heathrow, Seoul Incheon, Sydney
3 per day Kuala Lumpur
2 per day Auckland, Delhi, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York JFK, Osaka Kansai, San Francisco, Vancouver
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 January 2009

London Heathrow is the leading European destination, while three US destinations are each served twice daily. Cathay Pacific currently has a 35% share of scheduled seat capacity at Hong Kong, though its wholly-owned subsidiary Dragonair accounts for a further 15% of seats and operates to 30 destinations, of which 17 are in mainland China. These Chinese destinations account for 70% of Dragonair’s seat capacity.

The four destinations that Cathay only serves via an intermediate stop are Colombo (via Bangkok or Singapore), Fukuoka (via Taipei), Karachi (via Bangkok) and Riyadh (via Bahrain).

Increased frequency on three routes

Image: Dragonair Celebration
In December, Dragonair celebrated the launch of Hong Kong-Hanoi services with an inaugural dinner held in the Vietnam capital.

Last week the airline announced that it was adding frequency on three routes beginning at the end of March. Flights to Paris will increase from 10 to 14 per week, while Shanghai Pudong frequencies will triple from one daily flight to three. Dragonair already serves this route with 15 daily flights. Finally, Jakarta frequency will increase from 14 weekly departures to 17. Overall, the airline expects capacity to grow by less than 1% in 2009.

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