Bangladesh holds much promise for the aviation sector owing to its growing business travellers and rapid economic growth, Cathay Pacific's regional manager said.
“Aviation is a cyclic business -- market growth depends on the political and business climate. In the long-term, Bangladesh would be a promising market,” Leo Yeung, manager of Cathay Pacific's Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan operations, told The Daily Star in an interview.
Hong Kong is playing an increasingly important role in the development of Bangladesh and is quickly establishing itself as a key hub for business.
With ease of access, world-class infrastructure and proximity to major Asian markets, many international buyers and trading houses choose to base their regional offices in Hong Kong.
Most Bangladeshi travellers also use Hong Kong International Airport as a transit point to connect to North America, Canada, Australia, Japan and Korea.
Sensing the potential, the airline, which operates in Bangladesh through its subsidiary Dragonair, has launched six direct flights between Dhaka and Hong Kong a week.
Dragonair runs Airbus 330 aircraft on the route, which offers nearly 300 seats per flight. At the airline's Hong Kong hub, passengers can connect to Cathay Pacific and travel to more than 188 cities around the globe.
In 2013, the Cathay Pacific-subsidiary carried more than 30,000 passengers to and from Dhaka, up 5 percent year-on-year, according to Yeung. More than 70 percent of the passengers travel beyond Hong Kong to destinations in China, US, Japan, Korea and Southwest Pacific.
Cathay Pacific also operates three cargo flights a week from Dhaka and the service too witnessed robust growth last year.
More than 12,000 tonnes of cargo were carried by Cathay Pacific freighter and Dragonair from Bangladesh last year, a year-on-year increase upwards of 30 percent.
Yeung credits the spike in air cargo business to the frequent shutdowns last year that compelled the garment exporters to turn to air shipment to keep to their lead times.
In total, the airline offers around 350 tonnes of capacity, including the cargo lifted in the belly hold of Dragonair, which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific in 2006.
Founded in 1985 with a single aircraft, Dragonair fleet size today stands at 40, which cover 49 destinations in Mainland China and elsewhere in Asia.
In its early years, Dragonair primarily provided regular charter flights within the region, to places like Beijing, Shanghai, Phuket, Dhaka and Kathmandu. In 2000, in response to market demand and rising passenger volumes, Dragonair converted all of its charter flights to regular flights.
Other than Dragonair's fleet of 40, Cathay Pacific itself, as of June, has 142 aircraft and has orders for 90 more for itself and its subsidiary, to be delivered before 2024.
In July, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's de facto flag carrier, was named the world's best airline in the annual World Airline Awards run by Skytrax, which is the fourth time in the airline's history.
Yeung, who joined Cathay Pacific as a management trainee in 2010, says the reason for the airline's success is its motto, which is to provide service “straight from the heart”.
Passengers can enjoy a wide range of quality services and products onboard, which include meals featuring Asian specialty dishes, video and audio channels, an extensive shopping catalogue as well as world class service standards.
A round-trip on the 3,000-mile route to Hong Kong costs around Tk 65,500 on the economy class and Tk 126,500 on the business class. The airline offers visa assistance to its passengers in Bangladesh.
Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries employ more than 32,200 worldwide, of which more than 24,800 are based in Hong Kong.
Currently, a total of 75 people, including staff at four GSA offices, are working for the airline's operations in Bangladesh.
Cathay Pacific Group reported an attributable profit of HK$347 million for the first six months of 2014. This compares to a profit of HK$24 million in the first half of 2013.
Yeung, who graduated from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with majors in economics and finance, said the aviation industry is facing severe challenges due to higher fuel costs.
“I think the sector will remain challenging, as most airlines operate on very thin margins due to high fuel costs,” he said, adding that fuel accounts for about 40 percent of total costs for Cathay Pacific.
The 26-year-old Chinese national from Hong Kong said, in the long-run airlines will have to improve on their fuel-efficiency to survive.