Cathay Pacific suffered a HK$21.7 billion (£2 billion) record 2020 loss as Covid-19 hit the global airline sector.

The Hong Kong-based group experienced “the most challenging 12 months of its more than 70-year history” in 2020.

Passenger revenues in 2020 declined to only 2%-3% of 2019 levels since the onset of the pandemic.

The annual loss is net of HK$2.7 billion of Covid-19 government grants.

“Covid-19, and the resultant travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place around the world, brought about an unprecedented disruption of the global air travel market and the repercussions have been huge,” the company said.

A HK$39 billion recapitalisation was announced last June.

But around 8,500 jobs were cut in October and Cathay Dragon services discontinued by the end of 2020.

Hong Kong-based pilots and cabin crew were asked to accept new “competitive conditions of service”.

Group chairman Patrick Healy said: ”We sincerely thank the 98.5% of pilots and 91.6% of cabin crew who accepted the new contracts.”

He added: “With demand at an all-time low, we drastically reduced our passenger schedule to just a bare skeleton and our operating capacity remained below 10% for much of 2020.

“We saw occasional pockets of demand, notably in the summer season with student travel from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland to the UK and other destinations in Europe.

“Nonetheless, the 2020 summer season, which is usually our peak period of the year, was incredibly difficult.”

Cathay Pacific faced impairment costs on 34 aircraft that are unlikely to re-enter meaningful economic service again before they retire or are returned to lessors.

Almost half of the passenger fleet – 82 aircraft – which had been parked at Hong Kong international airport, were transferred to other locations, including Alice Springs in Australia and Ciudad Real in Spain, providing better environmental conditions.

Agreement with Airbus was reached to defer delivery of A350-900 and A350-1000 aircraft from 2020-21 to 2020-23, and to defer delivery of A321neo aircraft from 2020-23 to 2020-25.

Advanced negotiations are taking place with Boeing for the deferral of the delivery of 777-9 aircraft.

Looking forward, Healy described market conditions as remaining “challenging and dynamic”.

He warned: “It is by no means clear how the pandemic and its impact will develop over the coming months.

“We stated at the end of last year that we expected to operate at well below a quarter of pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity in the first half of 2021 with improvement in the second half of the year.

“This assumed that vaccines would prove to be effective and would be widely adopted in our key markets by summer 2021.

“Consequently we expected to operate at well below 50% passenger capacity overall in 2021. These statements are still largely valid.

“The correlation between the roll-out of vaccination programmes in our key markets and the potential future relaxation of travel restrictions remains highly uncertain and difficult to predict. We will remain agile and will respond according to the situation as it develops.”

He added: “Our short-term outlook continues to be challenging. However, we remain absolutely confident in the long-term future and competitive position of our airlines.

“Our important role at the centre of the Hong Kong aviation hub, and the critical role that Hong Kong will play in the Greater Bay Area and beyond, will continue to place us in good stead as we recover and rebuild from the impact of Covid-19.”