Few airlines in East Asia have been as dominant in the aviation industry as Cathay Pacific. An airline that was the brainchild of an Australian – Sydney H. de Kantzow, and an American – Roy C. Farrell, is bound to celebrate its seventy-fifty anniversary next year. In this article, we look at how Cathay Pacific, the flag bearer of Hong Kong, shaped the Asian aviation industry as we know it today.
Creation and Early Times
Cathay began freight services in January 1946 from Sydney to Shanghai, after Roy Farrell and Stanley Russell flew their Douglas DC-3 aircraft to Australia and obtained a license to carry freight.
Business soon boomed and attracted critical attention from the Chinese government officials. After several impediments created by the authorities in Shanghai, on 11 May 1946, Kantzow and Russel relocated their business, flying their two aircraft to Hong Kong. And so, on September 24, 1946, Cathay Pacific Airlines Limited officially came into existence.
The name of the carrier was particularly interesting – ‘Cathay’, which is the ancient name given to China, and ‘Pacific‘ because the founders speculated that they would one day fly across the Pacific (which would not happen for another 25 years!).
The airline grew rapidly and by 1947, Cathay had added another five DC-3s and two ‘Vickers Catalina’ seaplanes to its paraphernalia. The airline operated routes between Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai, Saigon and Bangkok with a few more chartered destinations. The airline prospered in the 1950s and 60s, and it purchased a majority stake in Hong Kong Airways in 1959. Between 1962 and 1967, the airline recorded double digit growth every year and became one of the world’s first airlines to operate international services to Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka in Japan. In 1967, it became an all jet airline with the replacement of its last Lockheed L-188 Electra with a Convair 880.
Expansion continued in the 1980s, and after Cathay acquired its first Boeing 747, it immediately applied for traffic rights to fly to London, with the first flight taking place on 16 July, 1980. In 1982, Cathay announced the formation of Cathay Pacific Cargo, which provided cargo service to ingratiate the trend of Hong Kong, becoming one of the largest re-export trading ports of the world. For a good part of the late 1980s and early 90s, Cathay remained one of the most dominant forces in Asia, so much that in 1998, Cathay Pacific, together with American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, and Qantas, co-founded the ‘OneWorld’ airline alliance.
In 2006, the airline underwent a shareholding realignment under which ‘Dragonair’, an airline in became a wholly owned subsidiary but continued to operate under its brand till 2016, when it was rebranded as Cathay Dragon. Today, Cathay has an all-wide-body, twin-engine commercial fleet composed of Airbus A330, Airbus A350, Boeing 777 aircraft and a Boeing 747 cargo fleet. The airline also has more Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X aircraft on order.
Economic Downfall and the Coronavirus Effect
As of late, Cathay has not seen the financial prosperity that it enjoyed for a better part of its lifespan. The economic unrest in Hong Kong in 2019 affected severely the stature of the carrier. While the airline was just standing on its feet post this unrest, the coronavirus crisis hit Asia hard, and business again dwindled for the airline. The airline has reported a 99.4% drop in passenger numbers due to the COVID-19 crisis, and thus, has now grounded almost all of its fleet, baring a few repatriation flights. With entire of aviation suffering immensely due to the pandemic, whether Cathay can hold it roots or not, is something to be seen!
Have you ever traveled on Cathay Pacific? Which one was your favorite flight?
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