Hong Kong’s Greater Bay Airlines: What You Need To Know

Greater Bay Airlines seems set to be the next airline to start operations in Hong Kong. Talk of a new airline only started in 2020, but it has progressed quickly with key staff in place, a license granted, and the first aircraft arriving. It plans to be a low-cost regional airline competing with Hong Kong Express on key Chinese and regional routes. But it is not certain yet when operations will start.

Greater Bay Airlines
Hong Kong is set to get a new airline – perhaps as soon as late 2021.Photo: Greater Bay Airlines

A new private airline for Hong Kong

In July 2020, plans began to emerge for a fifth airline to start operations from Hong Kong International Airport. Greater Bay Airlines is a private airline founded by Chinese investor Bill Wong Cho-bau. He is already the owner of Shenzhen-based Donghai Airlines. In December 2020, Algernon Yau Ying-wah, the former CEO of Cathay Dragon, was appointed as the new CEO.

Donghai 737
Founder Bill Wong Cho-bau also owns Donghai Airlines. Photo: Windmemories via Wikimedia

Cathay Pacific is, of course, the dominant carrier in Hong Kong (along with its previous subsidiary Cathay Dragon which it has now closed). Several others have attempted to take it on over the years, with varying results.

Oasis Hong Kong tried to operate European routes but failed. Jetstar Hong Kong planned a regional airline but never got started. HK Express started in 2004 and was acquired by Cathay Pacific in 2019. And Hong Kong Airlines, which started flights in 2006, remains a competitor. Although since early 2020, it dropped long-haul services to focus on just regional.

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First aircraft arrives

The new carrier submitted an application to Hong  Kong’s civil aviation authority for an air operator’s certificate (AOC) in July 2020. It is still awaiting approval, but has now taken delivery of its first aircraft.

Greater Bay Airlines
The first 737 arrived in Hong Kong last week. Photo: Greater Bay Airlines

The airline’s first Boeing 737-800 arrived on September 7th. It flew from Kazakhstan’s Astana International Airport to Hong Kong International Airport and officially landed in Hong Kong at about 3 pm.

The airline had said was hoping that its operator’s license will be granted before the end of September. If this had worked out, it could have taken its maiden flight on China’s National Day on October 1. However, the license clearance continues to be held up, and the South China Morning Post is reporting today that it is now looking to the first quarter of 2022 to commence flights.

Routes announced

In January 2021, the airline released details of its planned routes. It applied to the Air Transport Licensing Authority for rights to operate to 104 cities. Many of these are the routes abandoned by Cathay Dragon.

Almost half of these destinations (48) are in mainland China. Other regional destinations include the major cities of Bangkok, Seoul, and Tokyo, as well as plenty of smaller, leisure focussed destinations in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

According to an analysis by anna.aero, 89% of the routes were already served in 2019 (pre-pandemic). New routes not served at that time include Changzhou, Harbin, Hohhot, Lanzhou, Shijiazhuang, Suzhou, Urumqi, Tangshan, and Weifang in mainland China. Outside China, new routes include Vientiane.

Cathay Pacific A321neo
Cathay Dragon ceased services in October 2020 – Greater Bay Arileins will take on many of its routes. Photo: Airbus

While full details of the airline’s marketing plans or customer targets have not been released, the offering is thought to be low-cost, competing with HK Express more than Cathay Pacific.

Searching for aircraft

Greater Bay Airlines plans to start operations with three leased Boeing 737-800. In November 2020, it approached leasing companies with a request for three aircraft. According to FlightGlobal, at the time, there were around 20 bidders, and around 100 aircraft have been offered.

It has not released any plans to purchase new aircraft. Chief Executive Algernon Yau Ying-wah has said that the airline hopes to grow the fleet to around 30 aircraft in the next five-six years, and take on up to 3,000 staff.

Greater Bay Airlines
The 737-800 is a good choice for a low-cost airline. Photo: Greater Bay Airlines

The 737-800 makes sense for such an airline, with other low-cost operators finding the type works well for such operations. With its compromise on range and capacity, it makes a good, flexible option and has been the best-selling 737 variant to date.

Bad timing?

It may seem like the worst time to start an airline in Hong Kong. Restrictions on passengers remain tough and may do for some time. Non-resident foreigners are banned from entry, and anyone permitted to enter must quarantine for 14 or 21 days after arrival.

But with staff available and capacity at the airport, timing may not be so bad. It may not be the best time to actually start passenger flights, though. The airline has previously said it may start operations with just cargo. Demand for this remains strong in Hong Kong (and globally).

Do you think think the post-COVID market will allow for another airline operating out of Hong Kong? What else do you think we will see from Greater Bay Airlines? Feel free to discuss further in the comments.