On January 20, Cathay warned it expected a net loss of between HK$6.4 billion and HK$7 billion for last year, compared with the HK$5.5 billion recorded in 2021, because of associated companies’ deficits.

The airline was generating positive cash flow in the second half of 2022, Lam said.

Both Cathay Pacific and the group’s budget carrier HK Express were at 40 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger capacity in January, up from one-third recorded in December, according to Lam. They were both on track to reach 70 per cent capacity by the end of the year, he said.

Lam also addressed an ongoing dispute between management and the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union, which launched a work-to-rule action on January 19.

The union is calling on management to improve its roster arrangements, claiming staff are given little rest during overseas layovers.

Lam said service during the Christmas and Lunar New Year holiday had been “smooth” and pledged to “directly engage with frontline staff and address their concerns”.

In June last year, Cathay revealed it intended to hire 8,000 frontline staff over the next 18 to 24 months. Lam said the airline hired 2,000 new staff members last year and expected to add another 3,000 this year, although he did not specify how many were cabin crew or pilots.

Last year, Cathay Pacific said it planned to recruit 700 pilots and 2,000 cabin crew by the end of 2023.

Lam admitted the turnover rate had risen sharply during the pandemic, but levels were “trending back to normal”. The airline undertook “regular benchmarking” to ensure its offers were competitive with the rest of the industry, he added.

“We will continue to do that and make adjustments accordingly,” he said.

The Greater Bay Area, Beijing’s plan to link 11 cities along the southern Chinese coast, presented new opportunities for growth, Lam stressed. Cathay hoped to connect to more destinations in the area, capitalising not only on the demand for outbound flights, but also inbound travel from around the world, he said.

Lam pledged that the company would invest more resources into building its network in mainland China, with the airline set to operate more than 100 return flights per week to 14 cities there by the end of next month.

“We will be guided by the customers. So as more cities develop, with enough leisure and business demand and enough cargo demand, we will fly there,” he said, adding HK Express would also seek to increase its presence on the mainland.

But Cathay will face competition from Hong Kong’s Greater Bay Airlines, which plans to increase its aircraft fleet to 22 planes by 2027, with Beijing and Shanghai due to be added as the next destinations.

“With Cathay focusing on the premium end of the customer segments and then HK Express focusing on the low-cost carrier end, so I think that is how we compete,” he said.

While the third runway was officially opened in November, the entire system is only expected to be operational by 2024. The Airport Authority closed one of the two original runways for an upgrade in July as the new one came into service.

Calling the three-runway system, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, Lam said investment would go towards expanding Cathay’s fleet with 48 aircraft ordered for delivery between now and 2028.

Regarding the progress of the company’s home city in regaining its status as an aviation hub, Lam said: “The basic fundamentals in Hong Kong have not changed. It is a matter of time. We will come back.”

The company is still in the process of finalising its results for the year ending December and will publish them in March.