Cathay Pacific will run at less than half normal capacity next year, the Hong Kong-based carrier has revealed.

The projection came against a backdrop of Iata forecasts that passenger travel will not return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2024 after downgrading its full year 2020 forecast to reflect a drop of 66%.

Cathay Pacific Group suffered a year-on-year passenger slump of 98% in September by carrying just 47,061 people across Cathay Pacific and local subsidiary Cathay Dragon.

Group chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said: “September rounded off what has been an incredibly difficult summer, traditionally the peak passenger travel season of the year.

“We continued to operate minimal capacity – just 9% in September – a marginal month-on-month increase from about 8% in August.

“In September, we continued to rely heavily on student traffic to the UK. We launched three charter services from Hong Kong to London to cater to demand from transit passengers from the Chinese mainland, and another from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv for transit passengers from Shanghai

Looking forward, he added: “After carefully studying numerous scenarios facing the industry and our airlines, we expect we will be operating approximately 10% of our pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity for the rest of 2020 and under 50% for overall 2021.

“Among the multiple scenarios studied, this one is already the most optimistic that we can responsibly adopt at this moment.

“We assume we will be operating well below a quarter of pre-pandemic capacity in the first half of next year but will see a recovery in the second half of the year – only assuming the vaccines currently under development prove to be effective and are widely adopted in our key markets by summer 2021.”