Cathay brings back fleet parked in the Australian desert

Cathay Pacific Airways, battered by the pandemic that have led to a 98 percent fall in passenger numbers, is bringing back planes that parked idle in the Australian desert to rebuild Hong Kong's hub status as restrictions ease.

Cathay said the idle aircraft in the Alice Springs desert are protected and fly-ready. “Now, we are bringing the fleet home to continue their next journey.” Hong Kong's flag carrier tweeted on Tuesday.

“How do we manage this unprecedented operation involving over 70% of our planes? With lots of planning, coordination, and even more heart,” it added.

Cathay Pacific chief executive Augustus Tang said in June that the airline have about one-third of its passenger fleet parked in the desert and not being utilised. "We are making preparations for them gradually coming back ahead of the curve," he said.

Cathay Pacific operated only 4 percent of its pre-Covid-19 capacity in May and filled 60.5 percent of its seats. The need for crew members on passenger flights to quarantine in hotels after flying to destinations outside China means it has few frequencies to offer potential transit passengers.

Passengers heading to Hong Kong also face hotel quarantine on arrival, limiting demand.

Cathay Pacific has 45 passenger destinations back in operation as of June, up from 30 at the start of the year, and plans for up to 70 to be available by the end of the year as demand improves, Tang said. That compares to the 108 passenger destinations it operated before the pandemic.