Airline retrieves its final plane from the Australian desert where it has spent almost four years

  • Cathay Pacific has retrieved the last of its fleet of aircraft from Australia
  • The airline parked the plane long-term when the coronavirus pandemic began
  • The plane spent almost four years there before it was returned to Hong Kong

Published on Jul 04, 2024 at 7:43 AM (UTC+4)
by Claire Reid

Last updated on Jul 04, 2024 at 5:48 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

Airline Cathay Pacific has retrieved the last of its aircraft from Australia where it had been left parked up long-term.

After spending almost four-years in the Australian desert, the airline has brought its 85th – and final – of its passenger fleet home to Hong Kong.

The Cathay Group branded the operation ‘one of the most unprecedented undertakings in its 77-year history’.

READ MORE! Final resting place for commercial aircraft found in dusty California desert

Why did the airline leave the planes in Australia?

It all started at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when global air travel came to an almost complete standstill.

Like most airlines, Cathay Pacific was forced to ground the majority of its passenger planes. The planes were parked up at Hong Kong International Airport, Ciudad Real, Spain and in Alice Springs, Australia.

And just because the planes were parked, doesn’t mean the work stopped. Upon arrival at the Australian facility, each plane underwent a 14-day preservation check. This was followed by a repeating series of periodic inspections and checks.

In total, during the airline’s parking programme in Alice Springs, more than 16,000 of these periodic checks were performed, and a total of 800,000 labor hours were spent performing preservation, periodic and reactivation maintenance.

However, with travel restrictions removed, Cathay Pacific began the lengthy and complicated process of bringing the planes home.

Operation to bring fleet home was ‘once-in-a-lifetime undertaking’

And on June 6, the last plane – Cathay Pacific’s Airbus A330 registration B-HLV was returned to Hong Kong.

“Parking and reactivating so many aircraft is a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking, the scale and complexity of which has never been seen before at Cathay,” Chief Operations and Service Delivery Officer Alex McGowan said in a statement.

The returning of the planes kicked-off a ‘rigorous series of maintenance checks and inspections’ to ensure they meet safety and performance standards – meaning the hard work isn’t over just yet.

“An incredible amount of work goes into keeping an aircraft safe and protected when it isn’t flying, and to then reactivate it for entry back into regular service,”  McGowan went on.

“To do this for more than 85 aircraft long-term parked overseas, as well as to manage the large number of aircraft that were parked in Hong Kong, is a phenomenal achievement.” You can say that again.

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Claire Reid

Claire Reid is a journalist who hails from the UK but is now living in New Zealand. She began her career after graduating with a degree in Journalism from Liverpool John Moore’s University and has more than a decade of experience, writing for both local newspapers and national news sites. Across her career she's covered a wide variety of topics, including celebrity, cryptocurrency, politics, true crime and just about everything in between.