Cathay Pacific CEO on Asia’s positive perception of the air transport industry


(eTN) – While Cathay Pacific is back on track thanks to the renewed strength of China’s economy, the airline’s CEO, Tony Tyler, delivered a speech about the opportunities of Chinese travelers for the airline industry at the WTTC Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Beijing on May 27.

“We are gathered at a difficult time as the international economy continues to be spooked by uncertainty, with many of us wondering if the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is going to bring a second wave of disruption to economic recovery. But we in the industry are used to crisis. If I have learned anything in the 30-odd years that I have been in this business, it is that the natural condition of the airline industry is just that – crisis! Occasionally there are briefs periods of calm, which can be best described as ‘between crisis.’ The trick is to enjoy these while they last, but not to get used to it.

“If saying all this makes me sounds like a pessimist, well I’m certainly not. We are all of us involved in an industry that is not only exciting, but is important – even vital – to the way our modern world functions [especially as] globalization changed the face of the world in the way we trade and live.

“Anyone who lives and works in Asia has to be an optimist. The outlook on life in Asia differs markedly from that in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. There is a belief and faith in growth here. Development is seen as [a] catalyst for growth and not some kind of obstacle to be opposed and vilified. Look at the campaign against the third runway at Heathrow. Nowhere is this commitment to growth better exemplified than China. I’ll give you a few examples from the aviation’s industry point of view:

– The number of civil aviation air routes in China has increased nearly fourfold from 1990 to 2008.

– The number of airports in China is planned to reach over 270 by 2020 compared with 190 that are operational now.

– The number of aircraft in China has reached over 1,600 compared with just 94 back in 1990. That number will rise to over 4,000 over the next decade.

– In 1990, the mainland counted 17 million airline passengers, a figure which will top 260 million this year. The number of passengers in ten years’ time is officially forecast to be 700 million, and by 2030 it will reach 1.5 billion.

“China is now the big story, not just in our region but across the globe. Restrictions on travel by individuals have been steadily eased in recent years. Mainland Chinese are spreading their wings all over the world, and they are big spenders at the top end of the market. Last year, they had spent an estimated US$9.4 billion on luxury goods, representing more than 27 percent of the market. People say this will [be] China’s century, and so far all the signs are that they’re right.

“We here, members of an industry that celebrates the joys of travel, can only enthusiastically welcome this. There is, however, plenty of heavy lifting that needs to be done to address the challenges airlines face as we seek to do a better job for our growing body of customers. To name but a few, there are environmental, financial, security, operational, safety, political, and industrial problems we all face. I can assure you that Cathay Pacific will do its share of the heavy lifting that is needed. And we look forward to our industry and our customers benefiting as we do so.”