The Airbus A380 Operator That Never Was: Hong Kong Airlines

In a recent article, we touched on a Russian A380 airline that never was. But did you know there was actually an airline in Hong Kong that had 10 A380s on order? If it had accepted them from Airbus, it might have gone on to become the Emirates of East Asia…

The A380 might have gone to Hong Kong Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

Why did Hong Kong Airlines want A380s?

Back in 2011, start-up airline Hong Kong Airlines drew up its plans for the future. They saw that the current economic conditions of the global financial crisis were coming to an end, and that if it had the right aircraft they could easily overtake their main Hong Kong rival, Cathay Pacific.

The airline already had a few Airbus A330 aircraft that it was using to link Hong Kong to various European cities, but saw that the routes were very competitive with not only Cathay but European carriers as well.

Hong Kong Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines wanted a slice of the Europe to Asia market. Photo: Airbus

Hence they devised a plan to buy ten of the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, in order to be able to flood the market with cheap seats.

“We think the business connection between Asia and Europe is going to be very exciting for the next couple of years, after the current [economic] crisis is over. We are planning for the aftermath.” Airline’s corporate governance head Kenneth Thong said to Traveler Weekly in 2012. 

Additionally, the airline wanted more room onboard aircraft to tap into the very lucrative business class market. The A330s it was operating at the time were too small for the concepts that were starting to be popular (suites, doors, private partitions, and direct aisle access). Thus the A380s, with their double decks were seen as a solution to that problem.

What are the details of the A380 order?

As mentioned, the airline placed an order for 10 A380s in 2011, at a list value of around $3.8 billion USD ($4.37 billion USD in 2020). These aircraft would have been delivered starting in 2015 and would have been deployed first on a route from Hong Kong to London Gatwick.

However, in 2014, Hong Kong Airlines met with airbus to renegotiate their commitments.

The Airbus A380 Operator That Never Was: Hong Kong Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines A330 landing in Hong Kong. Photo: Edwin Leong via Wikimedia Commons

What happened?

Hong Kong Airlines wanted to change its A380 order, not because of financial issues, but because its owner, HNA’s sister firm, had actually gone on a shopping spree at Airbus.

According to Business Traveller, Hong Kong Aviation Capital (HKAC) had ordered 40 A320neo and 30 A321neos at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow. With these new planes potentially to be given to the airline to operate, they would instead pivot their business away from long-haul Emirates A380-style travel to short-haul South East Asia travel.

In the end, the A380s were diverted to other customers such as Emirates and ANA, who would go on to be the last deliveries for the type. 

Its a shame to see yet another story of an airline canceling an A380 order. The A380 is a magnificent plane that was simply built in the wrong decade, and in the end, was too large of an aircraft for most.

What do you think about this story? Do you think Hong Kong Airlines should have operated the A380 anyway? Let us know in the comments.