Hong Kong Could Get Another Airline With Startup Greater Bay Airlines

Although it seems like one of the worst times to start an aviation business, Greater Bay Airlines is moving ahead to become Hong Kong’s fifth passenger airline. The carrier has submitted an application to Hong Kong’s civil aviation authority for an air operator’s certificate (AOC).

Hong Kong International Airport Passengers
The airline is so new that it has yet to launch its own website or release any additional information. Photo: Hong Kong International Airport

Backed by the founder of Donghai Airlines

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is reporting that Greater Bay Airlines Company Limited submitted its application for an AOC in July 2020 and that Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department has confirmed that it is being processed. However, it’s been noted that the process of launching an airline in Hong Kong can take at least two years.

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The SCMP adds that the key person behind this venture is a Chinese mainland property tycoon by the name of Bill Wong Cho-bau. The Standard names Wong Cho-bau as “a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member.” He is also the founder and chairman of Donghai Airlines in Shenzhen.

Donghai 737
The figure behind this new startup is also the founder and chairman of Shanghai-based Donghai Airlines. The airline has a fleet of 23 Boeing 737-800s.  Photo: Windmemories via Wikimedia Commons 

Sources add that former senior executives from the Cathay group have joined the team. One name mentioned by two sources is former Dragonair and Airport Authority chief Stanley Hui Hon-Chun. The Standard adds that Stanley Hui Hon-Chung is a former management member for Hong Kong Airlines. 

The business model of Greater Bay Airlines

An industry source via the SCMP believes that this startup will be operating on a low-cost model with flights mainly between China, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia.

The source adds that the airline intends to use Boeing 737 aircraft. This would be a similar fleet strategy to Donghai Airlines, which uses 23 Boeing 737-800s. Donghai also has 25 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on order.

FAA approves B737-700 conversion scheme
Industry sources note that this airline startup is likely to operate Boeing 737s. However, the 737 variant is unknown, as is the quantity. Photo: Getty Images

The Hong Kong aviation market

For a small Special Administrative Region, which in some ways acts like a city-state, Hong Kong has a disproportionately high number of airlines based at its international airport.

In fact, of the four passenger airlines currently in operation in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific controls three. These are: Cathay Pacific (mainline carrier), Cathay Dragon (regional affiliate to Cathay Pacific), and budget airline HK Express.

Separate from this group is HNA Group’s carrier Hong Kong Airlines.

Cathay Pacific, as a group, controls three airlines. Photo: Cathay Pacific

A perfectly-timed move?

With many aviation experts predicting a two to three-year recovery to pre-pandemic levels, perhaps applying for an AOC now isn’t such an absurd move.

Launching an airline doesn’t happen overnight, and it may realistically take at least two years to obtain an air transport license, AOC, traffic rights, and landing slots. This is according to Law Cheung-Kwok, a senior advisor with Chinese University’s Aviation Research and Policy Centre who spoke with SCMP.

Hong Kong is home to four passenger airlines – can it handle a fifth within the next few years? Photo: Eddie Yip by Flickr

Many startups have been announced over the years and have evaporated into thin air, unable to jump the regulatory hurdles and fund the substantial startup costs. We’ll just have to wait and see if ‘Greater Bay Airlines’ can stand the test of time (and bureaucracy and money) to become a functioning passenger carrier.

Do you think Greater Bay Airlines will become a reality? Can the region handle yet another airline? Let us know in the comments.