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One of two administrative regions of China, Hong Kong has experienced an advancing aviation industry for a number of years. Hong Kong's only civil airport is Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), a leading passenger gateway in Asia and one of the busiest airports in the world in terms of international passengers and cargo flights. With over 85 airlines, HKG is the hub for Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Air Hong Kong, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express. Although Hong Kong does not have a national airline, Cathay Pacific would be the closest to such. The Civil Aviation Department is the aviation authority in Hong Kong, responsible for providing air traffic control services as well as reporting to the Government.
Airports in Hong Kong
148 total articles
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.
The rapid growth of mainland China's HNA Group is resulting in companies being added ahead of integration. HNA's two Hong Kong-based airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express, are increasingly overlapping with each other. That their roles are undefined and uncoordinated risks the two fighting each other – rather than combining their different propositions to address multiple segments of the markets.
Hong Kong Airlines is rapidly growing in Tokyo and Osaka, and launching a new service to Seoul Incheon – its 11th new destination in 2016. These are strong O&D markets and present a change from Hong Kong Airlines' previous staple of connecting traffic from mainland China over Hong Kong, or competing mainly against Cathay Pacific in key regional Asian markets from Hong Kong.
Following Hong Kong Airlines' entry to Tokyo and Osaka it will further increase services to the point where Japan becomes a larger market for it than mainland China. This is of some concern given Hong Kong Airlines' still evolving strategy for Japan, and weakening of the market through the appreciation of the yen.
For 37 years the Boeing 747 brought Cathay Pacific to the world. As it did for so many operators, the 747 transformed Cathay into a global airline. Cathay's final passenger 747 flight was on 01-Oct-2016. The occasion is filled with sentiment and the usual remarks of being the end of an era; the aircraft of course is iconic, and Cathay, which turned 70 in Sep-2016, has known the 747 for longer than it has not.
Yet the 747 era at Cathay ended long ago. The 747 gave Cathay a global footprint, but this is true for most current and former 747 operators. Cathay's position today against competitors is defined not by network reach but rather – depth. Mainland Chinese airlines, some of Cathay's closest competitors, know they have the local market and lower costs but acknowledge the one-stop challenge Cathay brings with hyperfrequency and a stronger product/brand.
That depth and domination, especially in the key North American market, was achieved with the 777-300ER. Cathay operates 53 777-300ERs – more than twice the 24 747-400s the airline had at its peak. Although A350s are arriving, Cathay's next evolution is defined not by aircraft and flying but rather by bringing new non-flying businesses into the group. For aviation this is seen as a partial surrender to competition. For the company it is a graduation to consistent and higher profits. As with the 747, it is time to move on and pursue a more productive future.
Cathay Pacific's fortunes have been weakened in recent years as competition mounts, mostly from greater regional capacity, some of which feeds other airlines' long haul hubs. Locally Cathay has faced home market competition from Hong Kong Airlines and LCC HK Express, which together have weakened Cathay on its regional services. Yet Cathay has been relatively insulated from the growing direct competition on long haul routes, which have supported its network in recent times and account for a high share of revenue.
Hong Kong Airlines is growing long haul to Australia and New Zealand, but its major threat to Cathay is on North American and European routes, to be launched with forthcoming A350s. Cathay appears to be making a pre-emptive strike by deploying its attention-getting A350 to increase flights to Vancouver, which Cathay expects to be an early Hong Kong Airlines destination.
This is the first time that Cathay is growing Vancouver since the entry of Oasis Hong Kong in 2007. After Oasis' subsequent collapse Cathay withdrew the additional capacity it had mounted. Hong Kong Airlines, however, has stronger backing – HNA – and is already known in the territory. Hong Kong Airlines' impact is guaranteed, but the question is to what extent. This depends on how Hong Kong Airlines sharpens as it becomes the city's second flagship airline.
The public did not react well to Cathay Pacific 1H2016 group profits dropping over 80%. Ironically there was little attention that the airlines have returned to being unprofitable amid factors ranging from strong competition to a USD576 million fuel hedging loss, greater than a year ago. Growth for the year is turning out to have only a minor adjustment: Cathay does not consider itself to be in crisis.
Despite squirms of supposed displeased investors and their questions about the future of CEO Ivan Chu, the actual two investors that matter are majority owners Swire and Air China. Their vision is one for the long term. Unlike airlines in the US or Europe, Cathay does not answer to the market and does not need to produce quarterly improvements. If the shareholders retain their vision and believe overcapacity is necessary to hold market share for the long term, then yield declines and unprofitability are uncomfortably accepted. The balance sheet is strong enough.
So the question is not if Cathay should address sagging yields and hedging losses, but rather whether Cathay can achieve its long term goal of being not just a premium airline but more importantly – a travel and lifestyle brand. There may not be an answer in this decade. Cathay may have the greatest self-assurance measured against the potential risk of traffic being siphoned from competitors. What is certain is that cost-cutting is needed, but remains elusive.