A Cathay Pacific A330 airbus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said Wednesday it lost HK$9.9 billion (US$1.27 billion) in the first half of this year, making it the latest major airline to reveal how badly the coronavirus pandemic has eviscerated its business.

“The first six months of 2020 were the most challenging that the Cathay Pacific Group has faced in its more than 70-year history,” chairman Patrick Healy said in a stark statement announcing the results.

“The global health crisis has decimated the travel industry and the future remains highly uncertain, with most analysts suggesting that it will take years to recover to pre-crisis levels,” he added.

Like airlines worldwide, Cathay has been battered by the evaporation of global travel during the pandemic.

The firm said it carried 4.4 million passengers in the first six months of 2020 – a 76% plunge on-year – as the pandemic burst out of central China and then spread around the world.

At the height of the global lockdowns in April and May, its entire fleet was averaging only 500 passengers a day.

Cargo remained the lone bright spot, bringing in HK$11,177 million and rising 9% on year.

Hong Kong’s government came to the rescue of Cathay earlier this year with a HK$39-billion recapitalization plan.

The deal allowed Cathay to raise some HK$11.7 billion in a rights issue on the basis of seven rights shares for every 11 existing shares held. 

Preference shares were sold to the government via Aviation 2020, a new company it owns, for HK$19.5 billion and warrants for HK$1.95 billion, subject to adjustment.

In return Aviation 2020 received two “observers” to attend board meetings.

Healy predicted little optimism for business picking up any time soon, quoting the International Air Transport Association as saying global travel is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.

And he said Asia-Pacific airlines were likely to stay hit for longer given spiraling tensions between the US and China, the world’s two biggest economies. 

“With a global recession looming, and geopolitical tensions intensifying, trade will likely come under significant pressure, and this is expected to have a negative impact on both air travel and cargo demand,” he said.

AFP

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