Cathay to return 85th aircraft parked up during pandemic back into service

The 85th and final Cathay Group aircraft to be long-term parked overseas during the pandemic is to return to service. 

The Airbus A330 has returned to Hong Kong after nearly four years in the Australian desert to undergo an extensive maintenance check. 

The aircraft was the carrier’s first to be grounded overseas in July 2020 as global air travel came to a near-standstill during Covid.

Cathay Pacific and regional arm HK Express had to park the majority of their passenger fleet at Hong Kong international airport; Alice Springs, Australia and Ciudad Real, Spain at the height of the pandemic.

The progressive reactivation of the aircraft started as the pandemic began to subside, involving a rigorous series of maintenance checks and inspections to ensure safety and performance.

Each aircraft parked in the desert underwent a 14-day “preservation check” when it first arrived followed by a repeating series of periodic inspections and checks. 

More than 16,000 checks were performed in Alice Springs, and a total of 800,000 labour hours were spent performing preservation, periodic and reactivation maintenance.

More than 40,000 parts and items of specialised equipment were also shipped from Hong Kong to support the Alice Springs operation. 

Meanwhile, an onsite quality assurance team conducted more than 2,000 audits.

Chief operations and service delivery officer Alex McGowan said: “Parking and reactivating so many aircraft is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking, the scale and complexity of which has never been seen before at Cathay. 

“An incredible amount of work goes into keeping an aircraft safe and protected when it isn’t flying, and to then reactivate it for entry back into regular service. 

“To do this for more than 85 aircraft long-term parked overseas, as well as to manage the large number of aircraft that were parked in Hong Kong, is a phenomenal achievement.

“Our teams in Hong Kong and around the world have been instrumental in ensuring our most valuable assets were well looked after, overcoming challenges together with positivity and determination.

“With our fleet now fully reunited, our focus is firmly on investing for the future. 

“The Cathay Group has more than 70 new aircraft on order, with the right to acquire an additional 52 aircraft in the future. 

“We are also exploring options for a new mid-size widebody aircraft. 

“These investments reflect our ongoing confidence in the Hong Kong international aviation hub as we look ahead to the exciting opportunities presented by the Three-Runway System at Hong Kong International Airport when it is fully commissioned by the end of this year.”

Engineering operations general manger Bob Taylor added: “An aircraft that is in long-term parking requires a defined programme of maintenance checks and inspections that are repeated over a regular cycle to ensure it’s preserved in tip-top condition. 

“When it comes to reactivating the aircraft, a rigorous series of checks and inspections must first be accomplished to ensure the aircraft is safe to ferry back from its overseas parking facility. The aircraft then needs to undergo a further series of detailed checks and inspections as part of its scheduled hangar maintenance check.”

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