Cruis­ing al­ti­tude

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

As the num­ber of out­bound trav­el­ers from the Chi­nese main­land con­tin­ues to soar, Cathay Pa­cific as the dom­i­nant re­gional car­rier is well po­si­tioned to fly with the coun­try’s am­bi­tion to travel the world and take off for new growth hori­zons.

“We are very lucky to be in this part of the globe, where eco­nomic well-be­ing is im­prov­ing and a large num­ber of the young gen­er­a­tion want to see the world,” said Ivan Chu Kwok-le­ung, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways Ltd, a com­pany founded on Sept 24, 1946.

“Nor­mally the younger the pop­u­la­tion, and the higher the per capita GDP (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct), the more fre­quently peo­ple would travel. That’s what is hap­pen­ing on the Chi­nese main­land and in Hong Kong as well. Go­ing for­ward, out­bound tourism will con­tinue to de­velop on the main­land, from which we will also con­tinue to ben­e­fit,” Chu told China Daily in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

Chu was ap­pointed chief ex­ec­u­tive on March 14, 2014 of Cathay Pa­cific, the flag car­rier of Hong Kong, home to the world’s third-busiest air traf­fic hub in terms of pas­sen­ger vol­ume.

Chu is also only the sec­ond Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tive, af­ter Philip Chen Nan-lok, to get the top job in the air­line owned by the Swire Pa­cific Ltd con­glom­er­ate.

De­scrib­ing him­self as “just a lo­cal kid”, 1960s-born Chu re­mem­bers the days when Hong Kong was still “very poor” — when the ra­dio was a fancy pos­ses­sion and even blackand-white TV sets a lux­ury. Those mem­o­ries are mixed with those of see­ing riot po­lice pa­trol Cen­tral on his way to school.

“But I was very lucky to be liv­ing at a time when Hong Kong took off,” Chu said. In 1981, three years af­ter the launch of the re­form and open­ing-up process on the main­land, Chu packed up and headed north, to take part in an ex­change pro­gram with Nan­jing Univer­sity dur­ing his fresh­man year at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

“It was fan­tas­tic. I made a lot of friends. I fell in love with the main­land,” Chu said. His main­land visit found Chu dis­cov­er­ing his ad­ven­tur­ous streak, and he spent ev­ery sum­mer va­ca­tion there­after ex­plor­ing the coun­try, funded by his earn­ings from English tu­tor­ing.

Leav­ing the big cities be­hind, Chu marched to­ward the fur­thest parts of the vast na­tion. For four days and three nights on the train from Shang­hai to Urum­chi, cap­i­tal of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion in the north­west, he chat­ted with pas­sen­gers in “bad man­darin”. He stayed in a Kazakh yurt, or round tent, with the lo­cals, vis­ited Qing­hai Lake and found the place so re­mote and rarely trav­eled that even the lo­cal party sec­re­tary came to meet him.

By the time he grad­u­ated in the early ’80s, Chu had turned down of­fers from a world lead­ing bank and a fast mov­ing con­sumer goods com­pany to join Cathay Pa­cific as one of the three man­ag­ing trainees hired that year, beat­ing out more than 1,000 ap­pli­cants.

“It was hard. But fate picked me and I picked the fate,” he said. “It’s the ro­mance of trav­el­ing that tempted me to join the air­line busi­ness.”

Cathay Pa­cific has 202 air­craft on its cur­rent group fleet with Dragon Air­lines and cargo car­rier Air Hong Kong. Taken alone, Cathay has 148 air­craft.

And Chu be­lieves the fleet is bound to grow as it en­deav­ors to cap­ture the op­por­tu­ni­ties aris­ing out of swelling num­bers of out­bound main­land tourists.

“Ge­o­graph­i­cally, Hong Kong sits in the sweet­est spot at the cross­roads of global air traf­fic,” Chu said, point­ing out that all ma­jor Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions are within 12 hours of non-stop fly­ing from the city.

A flight path over the North Pole would make even the North Amer­i­can east coast, in­clud­ing cities like New York and Chicago, also reach­able in 15.5 hours, which is roughly the max­i­mum cov­er­age of the latest long-haul air­craft. “As for com­peti­tors based in other South­east Asian hubs, their air­planes can’t fly non-stop to these des­ti­na­tions,” Chu em­pha­sized.

Go­ing for­ward, Cathay Pa­cific is plan­ning a “very bal­anced” net­work. Chu said the car­rier al­ready flies four or five times a day to ma­jor long-haul hubs such as San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les on the US west coast, Lon­don and Mel­bourne. But it is keen to de­velop routes to des­ti­na­tions such as Zurich, the US north­east coast city of Bos­ton, the Mal­dives and Dus­sel­dorf. In fact, a four-times-weekly ser­vice was launched just last Tues­day to the Ger­man city, one of the nearly 200 des­ti­na­tions Cathay Pa­cific flies to around the world.

“These places are not like Lon­don, but peo­ple go there for skiing, div­ing, study­ing and busi­ness pur­poses. There is enough traf­fic to fill the (Air­bus) A350, the latest long­haul plane we or­dered,” Chu said.

“We have the dream fleet of any mod­ern air­line. With that what we can do is add more des­ti­na­tions at a higher fre­quency, so peo­ple can travel through Hong Kong and find it eas­ier to con­nect to some­where else. That will im­prove our busi­ness, as a Hong Kong-based pre­mium hub car­rier.”

How­ever, re­gional skies are get­ting crowded and ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion is un­de­ni­able. Car­ri­ers from the main­land have been ex­pand­ing in the re­gion as well as on cross­con­ti­nen­tal routes in re­cent years. And of the roughly 100 car­ri­ers that touch down in Hong Kong, a

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