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Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon unit carried only 458 passengers a day in April

Cathay Pacific sees average daily passenger numbers remaining around 500 in May, and expects business and leisure travel to be severely impacted for the foreseeable future.

Hong Kong

CATHAY Pacific Airways and its Cathay Dragon unit carried only 13,729 passengers in April, an average of just 458 a day, as the coronavirus continued to wreak havoc on the aviation industry.

The figure is a 99.6 per cent drop from the same month last year, Cathay said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Friday. For the first four months of the year, the two airlines made an unaudited net loss of HK$4.5 billion (S$827 million) as they operated a so-called bare skeleton passenger flight schedule to just 14 destinations.

"The financial outlook continues to be very bleak for the coming few months at least," chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said. "It is widely expected that international travel demand will only return to pre- Covid-19 levels in a few years."

Mr Lam said average daily passenger numbers will remain around 500 in May and that business and leisure travel will be severely impacted for the foreseeable future. "We do not anticipate we will see a meaningful recovery for an extended period," he said.

Airlines everywhere are in trouble, seeking government bailouts, slashing salaries and even collapsing altogether as countries impose tight restrictions on movement through their borders. That's dried up travel demand, which hits the likes of Cathay especially hard as there is no domestic market it can turn to in Hong Kong.

"As Hong Kong's home carriers, we do not have the benefit of a domestic passenger network as a buffer," Mr Lam said. "We already announced that we will continue to operate a minimal schedule over the next two months. Although it is our intention to slightly increase our passenger flight capacity from 3 per cent in May to 5 per cent in June, these are still subject to a potential relaxation in government health measures."

Cathay was warning of losses and challenging operating conditions even before the coronavirus brought the global aviation industry to its knees because anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong led to a slump in travel to the city. Protests are flaring up again just as the pandemic eases in the financial hub, further denting Cathay's outlook.

Cathay's shares were down 0.56 per cent to HK$8.85 on Friday in Hong Kong. They have fallen 23 per cent this year. BLOOMBERG

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