The Airbus A380 Operator That Never Was: Hong Kong Airlines

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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…

A380
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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Matt

Probably, is next A380 of Skymark?

Dominic Yeo

Whoever ran Hong Kong Airlines may not have done a great job of managing it financially, but while they lasted, Hong Kong Airlines successfully tapped the Mainland market while managing to please the Hong Kongers by representing the city’s culture more strongly onboard than Cathay Pacific group ever did. The airline righted all that was wrong with Cathay, and with deeper pockets, I believe Hong Kong Airlines would’ve slaughtered Cathay Pacific.

Contrary to what many so called in-the-knows claim, I can confirm, because I worked with CX on some marketing branding stuff during all this while, CX continued to keep an open mind on the A380. In a big way, they do need the 12 to 20 A380s, and I suspect they eventually might source it from Emirates as they have with 777s. There’s absolutely no sense to increase frequency to London, New York, Sydney, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, and potentially Singapore on some flights. They need it, because Cathay Pacific is just losing sales by not offering a larger capacity.

Cathay Pacific was the world’s first best airline. They’ve been conservative, but that doesn’t mean they had no sense of creativity and innovation. People make an airline, but I think until they felt they were in mortal peril, and they saw how easily HX ripped the table cloth from their very eyes, that they started to really think about CX being the airline of Hong Kong, and potentially, China’s premier airline.

I’ve seen what they have in mind, and it’s really homely, but they’re better served as a Star Alliance member.

BTW, China Southern wanted 175 A380s and Beijing said NO WAY. China Eastern wanted 40 to 80 A380s and Beijing said NO WAY. Beijing knew CA would go belly up in an instant, being Boeing widebody-leaning. But they aren’t for reasons you might think 😉 Beijing offered them a CR939 but they are not keen. They’ve never been keen on indigenous.

Jalani firhat

Rubbish Airline

Hong Kong Fooey

I met with a Hong Kong Airlines A330 captain in 2014 and he said the reason why they did not go ahead with their A380 order was because of the HK Civil Aviation Department (HKCAD). I won’t elaborate further, but you, as a journalist should be able to research and follow this up. It had nothing to do with their parent company ordering A320 NEOs and A321’s to move away from long haul operations. Hong Kong Airlines did operate long haul with their acquisition of A330s and A350s.

fdskjkl dsfdlkdfj

The A380 suffers from the same disease as the Concorde did: European hubris and wishful thinking. When will they learn?