Battered Cathay Pacific has returned to New Zealand with freight revenue helping make up for light passenger loads and hope vaccination of its crew and the public will boost its recovery.
The airline paused operations here between February and this month due to stringent isolation requirements for its crew. They needed to quarantine for three weeks in Hong Kong when returning from flights, further choking its network which is all international flying.
With those requirements eased for vaccinated crew, Cathay has resumed flights to Auckland although just once a week - pre-pandemic it was flying to this country up to twice a day.
Last month the airline told all its Hong Kong-based pilots and flight attendants they needed to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of August or risk losing their jobs, Around 90 per cent of pilots and close to 70 per cent of flight attendants have had the jab.
In Hong Kong, about 25 per cent of those eligible had been vaccinated and 37 per cent had got one jab.
Cathay Pacific's regional general manager South West Pacific, Rakesh Raicar, said the airline remained committed to this country where it has been flying here for close to 40 years.
It is using either 368-seat Boeing 777s or 334-seat A350-1000s to fly between Auckland and Hong Kong.
He said flights into Auckland had about 35 to 45 passengers on board although flights north had up to twice that number.
The number of passengers coming into New Zealand was based on space in managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ).
Asked how the airline can make flights pay with passenger load factors of 10 per cent to 15 per cent, he said freight was filling the gap.
Flights by passenger aircraft are running at a fraction of pre-pandemic volumes to Auckland meaning there was reduced belly freight capacity countered by strong demand for space in those still flying.
''Cargo is the bright spot at the moment - demand is strong because the belly capacity has dried up. We expect cargo to remain strong for some time because the belly capacity is only going to come back slowly.''
Cathay Pacific traffic figures out on Friday show the continued impact of the pandemic on the airline which has last month had 89 of the 239 planes of its fleet were in long-term storage in Australia and Spain.
The airline has HK$32.8 billion ($6.4b) liquidity available.
Cathay Pacific carried 40,651 passengers last month, an increase of 50 per cent compared to June 2020, but a 98.7 per cent decrease compared to the pre-pandemic level in June 2019, reflecting its complete reliance on international flying.
During the past 16 months it has closed its Cathay Dragon regional airline and last December announced it was axing more than 8000 roles.
Raicar said agility was the key for survival.
''Based on that we are making quick decisions to add flights when it makes sense.''
He was hopeful of resuming services to Christchurch when conditions allowed.
The joint venture with Air New Zealand means the airline has two flights a week, although just one with its own planes.
''New Zealand has always been a very important market for us. It continues to be,'' said.