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Cathay Pacific to reach 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by end-2023

FILE PHOTO: A Cathay Pacific Airways Airbus A350 airplane approaches to land at Changi International Airport in Singapore

(Reuters) -Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Monday it expected to operate 70% of its pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity by the end of 2023, up from a planned 33% by the end of 2022, as it pressed ahead with recruitment and training.

The airline said it aimed to make a return to full pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity by the end of 2024.

Cathay last week announced long-serving executive Ronald Lam would take over as chief executive on Jan. 1 as it scrambles to return aircraft from storage and add 4,000 staff over the next 18 to 24 months to meet rising travel demand after Hong Kong lifted quarantine rules.

Rival Singapore Airlines Ltd has made a much quicker recovery, with passenger capacity set to reach 81% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year.

The Cathay pilots' union last month said the Hong Kong airline faced unprecedented staffing and training shortages that would keep airfares high and impede the city's return to its role of global aviation hub.

Cathay's outgoing boss Augustus Tang said in a statement on Monday that his airline was taking a "measured and responsible approach" to managing its recovery given the challenges that came with having borders closed for longer than other markets.

"Importantly, we have sufficient pilots, cabin crew and operational employees to support our current flight schedules, and we are confident that our ongoing recruitment plans will ensure this remains the case throughout the recovery," he said.

"The short-term bottlenecks lie in the recertification of pilots who have not been flying regularly for a long period of time and the reactivation of aircraft," he added. "We have been bolstering our capabilities to expedite this process."

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)