With the launch of non-stop services to Dublin, Brussels, Washington DC and Cape Town this year, Cathay Pacific opened up Hong Kong to major international destinations for the first time.
The objective? According to Chief Executive Officer Rupert Hogg, it’s to ‘create new opportunities for business, trade and tourism, in addition to strengthening our home hub’.
While Hong Kong is an exciting destination in its own right, its flight connections and role as a major transit hub are second to none. In 2018, Hong Kong International Airport won Skytrax’s Best Airport for Transit Passengers award, with its smooth processes and transfers matched only by the network of destinations it serves.
And just as any strong hub needs core trunk routes across the globe, developing local and regional feeder connections is equally important. That’s where Cathay Dragon comes in. Its 47-strong widebody and single-aisle fleet serves around 50 destinations on the Chinese mainland and across Asia.
In quick succession, three new services have been added: Medan in Indonesia, Davao in the Philippines and, starting this month, Tokushima in Japan. All routes are operated by Airbus A320 aircraft.
With its cultural links to China, Medan is expected to generate a lot of local point-to-point and VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic – plus it’s an emerging tourist destination. Davao has seen a lot of government investment and is developing as a trade centre, with business traffic from the Chinese mainland and the wider region.
Adding new destinations can also relieve pressure on busy routes where it isn’t possible to increase flight frequencies.
‘Flights between the Philippines and Hong Kong are quite full’, explains Jasmine Hui, Head of Passenger Network. ‘We think Davao will be a good addition to Manila and Cebu as some passengers will appreciate the direct link, and that will help us free up some space on the existing flights to and from the Philippines.’
Cathay Dragon operated charter flights to Tokushima for tour groups earlier in 2018. Now a seasonal twice-weekly service is starting over the winter period.
‘It’s a route based very much on popular demand,’ explains Hui. ‘When this was a charter service it could only be booked via a travel agent. That meant buying a package and a group itinerary.’
As well as adding an extra option for travellers to get to Japan, this will also enable passengers to buy ‘open-jaw tickets’ – and so arrive at and depart from different airports. Visitors might combine their Tokyo city break or trip to Osaka (just three hours away by bullet train) with the scenic beauty of Shikoku Island and high-octane whitewater rafting and surfing.
Tokushima already welcomes domestic flights from Tokyo Haneda, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Cathay Dragon is its first scheduled international airline.
All arrangements for the new route were made in a matter of months, which shows the airlines have not only increased the number of route launches – they’re also getting to market much quicker.
Hui says: ‘We used to say it took a year to set up a new route. But we have sped up the process, and now we have been opening seasonal routes in three to six months.’
Launching a new route is still a mammoth effort of coordination, from setting up the flights in the selling system and driving local sales through marketing, to the staffing requirements needed to operate the flights, handle passengers and maintain the aircraft on the ground – plus ensuring that all the equipment for engineering, cargo and baggage is accounted for, audited and in place.
Ground operations also require coordination with the local airport authority. In Tokushima’s case, the addition of an international facility to the domestic terminal in January this year was a game-changer.
Yoshitaka Nagae, Business Resilience Manager for North East Asia, has been negotiating with the local airport authority and others to get set for the first arrival. The others, in this case, include the Japan Self Defence Force, as the airport is also used by this government entity. ‘That meant we had quite a limited period of time to negotiate take-off and landing slots,’ he says.
Efforts are currently focused on getting everything in place for a simulation exercise of the first flight early this month, including testing the systems and processes, ahead of the launch on 19 December.
And once that happens, the Hong Kong hub will become even stronger.
Cathay Dragon flies to Tokushima from Hong Kong twice a week from 19 December 2018 to 30 March 2019. Cathay Dragon flies to Davao four times a week and to Medan three times a week