As Cathay Pacific is being forced to undergo a competitive metamorphosis it is exploring all options. The latest example is an expected announcement of a new Cathay Pacific route from Hong Kong to Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island. The service is expected to be seasonal (for the New Zealand summer), and is only Cathay's second seasonal long haul route after the Jan-2017 announcement of northern summer service to Barcelona.
New Zealand is a small network component for Cathay but one of its last strongholds, due to a joint venture with Air New Zealand. The New Zealand government reluctantly extended approval for the JV despite Cathay and Air NZ reneging on an offer to use it to link Hong Kong with Christchurch, as well as Auckland. This would thereby have extended the JV to benefit more of New Zealand – a sensitive local matter based on the assertion that Auckland was receiving disproportionate air service benefit.
Air NZ's JV with Cathay arch rival Singapore Airlines has resulted in SIA growing its presence in Christchurch. Cathay has been more frugal, and the NZ government determined that although the JV reduced competition, there was no prospective third competitor, so no harm done.
But now that Hong Kong Airlines has entered Auckland, and then expanded, the Cathay-Air NZ JV faces disbanding. By finally committing to a Christchurch route Cathay appears to be bidding to keep the JV in play. But the New Zealand government will still probably withdraw approval of the Air NZ-Cathay JV.
HK Express continues to work towards its goal of ending 2018 with 50 aircraft. HK Express will end 2016 with 18 aircraft, including its first A321s and A320neo. The A321s provide additional capacity per movement – important to bring costs down, but also to grow where traffic and slots (at Hong Kong and abroad) do not permit.
Asian LCCs are increasingly gravitating to larger aircraft to try to overcome insufficient infrastructure. Larger narrowbodies at LCCs gained wide awareness with AirAsia's A321 order, although many other LCCs will operate larger types before AirAsia receives its first A321. The A320neo brings additional range, besides the usual efficiency improvements.
HK Express plans to end 2017 with 32 aircraft. Even if sustainable markets can be found, this is rapid growth for an opaque slot system at Hong Kong International Airport. HK Express' continued growth will further boost the share of seats that LCCs operate at Hong Kong. LCCs account for 10% of capacity at Hong Kong in 2016 – up from 5% in 2012. The gains have mostly been earned due to HK Express. With as much success as HK Express claims, it might now be time for the LCC to open its books and present transparent financial reports.