Cathay Pacific wants to boost the number of flights between Australia and Hong Kong ahead of an expected increase in demand for travel between the two countries.
The airline has already reached a Government-imposed limit of 70 flights per week out of Australia, covering most capital cities as well as Cairns, and is now reliant on a relaxation of that cap before adding more services.
Cathay Pacific sees flights to London and Europe via Hong Kong as major drawcards for Australian travellers, along with shorter hops flights into China on Cathay and its sister Dragonair.
During a speech today at Sydney's Australia Pacific Aviation Summit, Cathay's Chief Operating Officer Ivan Chu quoted the old Chinese proverb of "digging a well before you are thirsty."
"When the market grows we want to have the capacity to allow us to grow" he said.
Chu later told Fairfax aviation reporter Matt O'Sullivan that the Australian and Hong Kong governments would soon begin talks about bilateral air rights.
"At the end of the day the governments should look after the public interest, and expansion will provide more public interest. If there is more capacity, we will take advantage of that."
However, Cathay will find itself going up against Jetstar Hong Kong, which is expected to launch by year's end with flights from Hong Kong to China.
The low-cost carrier is a joint venture between Qantas, China Eastern Airlines and the investment firm Shun Tak Holdings, led by Hong Kong business magnate and multibillionaire Stanley Ho.
Cathay's predicament is that all its Australian flights are served by Airbus A330 jets with some 242 seats spread over business class, premium economy and economy cabins.
With the airline in the final stage of retiring its older and less fuel-efficient Boeing 747s, increasing Australian capacity without adding more flights would require moving selected flights to its Boeing 777-300ER flagships – a move that would deliver a 40% increase to 340 passengers in the same three-class version, or 275 passengers on the four-class configuration boasting Cathay's refreshed first class.
The alternative is to wait until 2016, when Cathay will begin flying the first of its new Airbus A350-900 jets with an estimated 314 seats.
But by 2016, according to Chu, Cathay Pacific may already be thirsty for more capacity.
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