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Cathay Dragon evaluates A320/737 order to upgrade Asia's oldest fleet – if unions allow

It may seem surprising that Asia's oldest aircraft fleet is operated by Cathay Dragon, part of the Cathay Pacific Group that is one of Asia's historically blue-chip, but now challenged, aviation companies. Cathay, according to the South China Morning Post, is midway through an RFP to acquire 23 next-generation narrowbody aircraft from 2019. Meanwhile its local rival HK Express has already received its first A320neo.

Cathay Dragon operates 42 passenger aircraft, including 23 narrowbodies with an average fleet age of 12.6 years. The A330s – including the world's oldest – push average fleet age to 14.5 years, the highest of major Asian airlines. The A320s alone would still be the oldest fleet; Korean Air has the second oldest fleet, but at a younger 9.8 years.

The aircraft order is overdue and Cathay missed an opportunity five to ten years ago to grow a larger footprint in mainland China. Now the Singapore Airlines Group – thanks to narrowbodies and LCCs – serves more Chinese cities than Cathay does in its own backyard. Although it is a buyer's market for new aircraft these are precarious times at Cathay, whose fiery unions lack confidence in management spending and direction. As Cathay restructures it appears that inevitably staff will have to make salary sacrifices, further challenging how to communicate the necessity of long term investments.

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