POINTS IN TIME

What does the arrival of a new A321neo fleet mean for Cathay’s regional airline? By PHIL HEARD

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Cathay Dragon’s new A321neo planes

歷史時刻

國泰港龍航空全新的A321neo客機

全新的空中巴士A321neo機隊會為國泰的地區航空公司帶來什麼改變?撰文: Phil Heard

PRIOR TO ITS purchase by the Cathay Pacific Group in 1990, Hong Kong-based Dragonair started operations in 1985, flying with one Boeing 737 to destinations in Southeast Asia.

Today, the rebranded Cathay Dragon flies to 56 destinations in 16 countries and territories across Asia, with a particular focus on China with 28 destinations. Chief among its aims: to route passengers to the world via Hong Kong. As the network has grown, so too has the fleet – in line with the demand for air travel across China and Southeast Asia.

Dragonair bought its first narrow-body Airbus aircraft in 1993. Today, the fleet counts 23 of these aircraft, along with 24 wide-body A330s, to service busy trunk and mid-haul destinations.

In August, the airline purchased 32 Airbus A321neo aircraft, which will be delivered between 2020 and 2023. These will replace the existing narrowbody fleet, giving the airline the potential to expand and adding flexibility to its strategy.

The A321neo (neo standing for ‘new engine option’) is the largest in the A320 family. The new planes have an extended range of up to 6,850 kilometres, more than enough for the furthest point on the existing network, Bengaluru.

As well as new engines, the A321neo also features impressive noise reduction (up to 50 per cent better than the current A321) and fuel efficiency – the latter thanks in part to its blended ‘Sharklet’ wingtips.

But with more range, more flexibility and nine more narrow-body aircraft to deploy, what might Cathay Dragon’s route network look like by the early 2020s?

Industry body Iata expects air passenger demand to double over the next 20 years, driven by the Asian market. It expects China to displace the US as the biggest aviation market by 2025, while India will displace the UK in third. Indonesia will enter the top 10 for the first time. It’s a great network opportunity to route via Hong Kong onto Cathay Pacific flights.

Cathay Dragon chief executive Algernon Yau explains: ‘ When it comes to expanding our network, our philosophy has always been to grow our mainland Chinese and regional destinations to accommodate the demand there. We continue to explore our options with regard to increasing frequencies on our most popular routes and introducing new destinations that appeal to our customers and complement the rest of our network.

‘It’s a substantial investment that underlines our confidence in the future of the Cathay Pacific Group as well as our commitment to bolstering Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s largest international aviation hub.’

以香港為家的港龍航空於1985年開始營運,以一架波音737客機往來多個東南亞航點。其後港龍航空於1990年被國泰航空收購。

今天,經過品牌重塑的國泰港龍航空提供前往亞洲16個國家及地區共56個航點的服務,而中國更成為國泰港龍的重點服務對象,設有28個航點。這種安排,旨在將乘客通過香港帶到全球各地。由於網絡不斷增長,機隊亦需相應擴充,以便滿足中國及東南亞日益增加的航空需求。

港龍航空於1993年購入首架單通道空中巴士客機,今天這種客機在機隊中已增至23架,此外還有24架廣體A330客機,為繁忙的中長途航點服務。

今年8月,國泰港龍購入32架空中巴士A321neo客機,並於2020年至2023年期間付運。這些新客機將會取代原有的單通道客機機隊,令國泰港龍的班次調度可靈活配合營運策略,有更廣闊的發展空間。

A321neo客機的「neo」代表「新引擎選擇」,是A320型號客機中體型最大的,可以作更長途的飛行。新的客機可以飛行

6,850公里,即使飛往現時網絡中最遠的航點班加羅爾,仍然綽綽有餘。

A321neo不單配備全新的引擎,同時也附設更優秀的降噪設備,最多能比現時的A321客機減少一半噪音。配合新客機的「鯊鰭小翼」設計,更可有效節省燃油。

隨著九架單通道客機付運,加上客機的航程可以飛得更遠,調度更靈活,國泰港龍的航線網絡到了2020年代初,會變成什麼樣子?

業界團體國際航空運輸協會預期,未來20年由於亞洲市場的帶動,乘客對航空的需求將會倍增。該團體亦預期到了2025年,中國將取代美國成為最龐大的航空市場;而印度則會取代英國成為第三位,至於印尼就會首次躋身十大排行榜內。乘客經香港登上國泰航空的班機,將會為網絡帶來大好機會。

國泰港龍的行政總裁丘應樺解釋道:「當我們擴充網絡時,主要宗旨是增加中國內地及地區航點的數目,以滿足當地的需求。我們繼續就有關增加最受歡迎航線班次、推出吸引顧客及令網絡更趨完善的新航點而作詳細考慮。」

他續道:「這是一項可觀的投資,顯示我們對國泰集團的未來充滿信心,同時亦表現出我們極力支持香港成為亞洲最大規模國際航空樞紐的決心。」

New direction Cathay Dragon celebrates its one year anniversary as a rebranded airline this month. Left: a new A321neo aircraft 新方向 國泰港龍航空本月慶祝品牌重塑一周年。左圖: A321neo航機

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