Greater Bay Airlines – A New Airline Coming To Hong Kong

Hong Kong might strike you as one of the worst possible places to start a new airline. The worldwide travel downturn has ravaged the Chinese territory and its airport. But all going well, newcomer Greater Bay Airlines plans to start flying from Hong Kong on October 1st.

Greater Bay Airlines is planning to fly its first flight on October 1. Photo: Getty Images

Serious aviation experience behind Greater Bay Airlines

While the nascent airline has its first plane, a Boeing 737-800, Greater Bay Airlines is yet to get the all-important air operators certificate. However, Greater Bay executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung says this is expected in September. Hot on the heels of that is the anticipated October 1st charter flight to Beijing.

While there is no shortage of would-be startup airlines around the world, Greater Bay’s plans are more advanced than most. Having a plane helps. The airline has also hired staff, including 10 pilots.

There is also some serious airline pedigree behind Greater Bay Airlines. Stanley Hui Hon-chung is the former CEO of Hong Kong’s Airport Authority and Dragonair. Also onboard is Algernon Yau Ying-wah. Yau worked at the Cathay Group for 38 years, including doing time as CEO of Cathay Dragon.

A key player in Greater Bay Airlines is Bill Wong Cho-bau. He is the founder and chairman of Donghai Airlines in Shenzhen. Calling it an “all-star” list of directors, Hong Kong’s The Standard also lists former security secretary Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong, Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen and Executive Councillor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as board members.

Experience brings a measured & mature approach

With such blue-chip and experienced leadership, Greater Bay Airlines isn’t flying high on the avgas fumes, planning big expansions before the first flight takes off. Instead, the airline is taking a measured and mature approach to initial operations.

“The airline is taking shape,” said Hui earlier this month. “We are mindful that as a new airline, it takes time to build up a solid foundation. We are not rushing in to expand rapidly until we are ready.”

Before the travel downturn stole the limelight, the biggest ongoing story out of Hong Kong were the rolling democracy protests. Several local airlines, including Cathay Pacific, became caught up in the politics.

Two years down the track, Greater Bay Airlines is playing its cards carefully. The October 1 start date is important. It is the 72nd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Greater Bay Airlines wants to fly its Boeings regularly to Beijing. Picking October 1 was a deliberate decision.

While the airline is eyeing flights around the wider Asia region, initially, Greater Bay Airlines is likely to concentrate on mainland China. Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Wuhan are all destinations Hui wants to look at first.

Greater Bay Airlines eyes void left by Cathay Dragon

Greater Bay’s website says once the airline is in full swing, they plan to increase the fleet to 10 Boeings by the end of 2022. The airline says it has applied to operate to 104 destinations across the region, including the Chinese Mainland, North Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent.

Many of the routes Greater Bay Airlines is eyeing became vacant after regional airline Cathay Dragon ceased operating nearly 12 months ago.

Interestingly, the website says they are eyeing flights to Singapore, Bangkok, and Phuket in the fourth quarter of 2021. Recent media reports suggest the airline is still keen on these destinations, although travel restrictions and border closures may yet cruel those ambitions.

Avoiding a rookie error that alienates potential passengers before the first flight, Greater Bay Airlines is yet to publish schedules or start selling tickets. Keeping dates and destinations relatively vague gives the airline some wriggle room if timelines don’t stick and border crossing rules don’t change.

Is there method in the madness at Greater Bay Airlines?

By the end of this year, Greater Bay Airlines plans to have a trio of leased Boeing 737-800s. So far, only one has arrived. That’s a former Norwegian Air International aircraft that comes to Greater Bay via ICBC Leasing. Multiple media outlets identify the Boeing as D-AAGB. Airline database indicates the aircraft is being re-registered as B-KJA.

Those Boeings will have a rich menu of destinations within the immediate region if all goes well with travel restrictions and the Chinese Government. An estimated 86 million people live in the Greater Bay region – the startup airline’s backyard. Approximately 1.4 billion people live in China.

Business might be subdued at Hong Kong Airport right now, but seasoned industry professionals like Hui and Wong are lining up to tap those populations when travel does resume. With vaccination rollouts continuing, many industry insiders believe 2021 will be the last year of significant travel restrictions. If they are right, flights at Greater Bay Airlines will start just ahead of the curve.

Arguably, there is some method in the apparent madness of starting up an airline in Hong Kong right now.

Much unrealized potential for Greater Bay Airlines

But it isn’t all going Greater Bay’s way. In a recent round of media briefings, Stanley Hui Hon-chung took aim at unnamed rival airlines for trying to prevent Greater Bay Airlines from securing its air operators certificate.

Saying he believed Greater Bay Airlines met all the requirements of certification, Hui added, “It is not surprising that incumbent airlines do deploy various means to prevent or delay the entry into the market of new airlines.”

Without that air operators certificate, Greater Bay Airlines will remain stuck flying charters. Hui’s comments could be taken as a pointed jab at Cathay Pacific. But that airline told The South China Morning Post that while they raised concerns about another airline trying to wring a dollar out of flying in Hong Kong at the moment, Cathay Pacific had not objected to Greater Bay Airlines applying for its certificate.

“There is a wealth of potential for both business and leisure travel as the region continues to develop,” a Cathay Pacific spokesperson said.

Both Cathay Pacific and Greater Bay Airlines are on the same songsheet there, the latter airline saying;

“We believe the 55,000-square-kilometer Greater Bay Area will become a hotbed of financial and technological growth in the years to come. We aim to expand existing access to the region by offering quality passenger and air freight services to its combined population of 86 million people.”

With October 1 a matter of weeks away, many people will be watching to see how or if Greater Bay Airlines takes off.