Cathay Pacific CEO Ronald Lam says profitability is back on the radar for the stricken airline and there's hope for the aviation industry in general after three pandemic-hit years, but he warned that there were still challenges hindering a rapid return to normality.
The SAR's flagship carrier expects to post a net loss of up to $7 billion for 2022, which it's putting down to large losses from associated businesses, but Lam says an uptick in performance towards the end of the year gives him cause for optimism.
"We have seen improvement in the second half of 2022 compared to the first half. And I'm very encouraged by the trend, and I'm very confident that the trend will continue this year and we will see continuous improvement in our performance," he told reporters at a media briefing on Monday.
Cathay in 2020 received a cash injection from the government as it slipped deep into the red with most flights cancelled. It pared losses in 2021 to $5.5 billion from more than $20 billion the year before, citing strong performance from its cargo division and tight cost controls.
Cathay has rapidly increased the number of flights since Hong Kong authorities reduced and eventually eliminated quarantine for incoming passengers last year. Lam says he's confident the airline will be able to run 70 percent of its pre-pandemic flight schedule by the end of the year, with a return to full capacity by the end of next year.
"Our recruitment is going on as planned and I don't see any sign of major bottleneck at the point in reaching that target," he said. However, he said a full recovery was dependent on market demand and tourist figures.
One difficulty the airline has encountered so far this year is a series of restrictions implemented by Japanese authorities on flight from Hong Kong. Cathay confirmed on Monday that it had axed some 48 flights to and from Japan in the coming two months.
Lam told reporters that he hoped the restrictions would be lifted by March.
"I believe this is only temporary. For the affected customers, we have already assigned other flights for them to choose from, to minimise the impact," he said.
Lam also played down concerns about the effect of a work-to-rule campaign by the airline's flight attendants' union over the Lunar New Year. The union said its complaints about rostering had not been heard, but Lam said the company had been engaging with the union to settle disputes.