What Happened To Cathay Dragon’s Aircraft?

Cathay Dragon was the regional subsidiary of Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific. It ceased operations in October 2020. Much of its fleet has transferred to Cathay Pacific, but the full extent remains unclear, with many aircraft still out of service due to reduced operations.

Cathay Dragon
Cathay Dragon operated the A330, A320 and A321. Photo: Getty Images

Closing Cathay Dragon

Cathay Dragon started service back in 1985 as Dragonair. This new airline operated out of Kai Tak International airport, with regional services including several cities in China, Thailand, and Malaysia. It was the first local competition to the dominant Cathay Pacific (which had started service in 1946). It was not long, though, before this started changing.

Cathay Pacific and its owner, The Swire Group, took a share in the airline in 1990 and gradually increased its ownership. Dragonair became a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific in 2006 and operated this way until its closure.

Dragonair was rebranded as Cathay Dragon in 2016. But in October 2020, Cathay Pacific announced that Cathay Dragon would cease operations. This came about as a result of the extreme slowdown in aviation. Cathay cut 94% of all flights, and at the worst, it flew only 582 passengers in a single day. However, regional traffic had already begun to suffer from increased airline competition in Hong Kong and improving high-speed rail services to China.

Cathay Pacific plane Hong Kong
Cathay Dragon used the same branding as Cathay Pacific, in a different color. Photo: Getty Images

The Cathay Dragon fleet

When it ceased operations, Cathay Dragon operated an all-Airbus fleet with the narrowbody A320 and A321 alongside the widebody A330-300.

In prior years, Dragonair had been a Boeing operator as well. Its first aircraft in 1985 was the Boeing 737-200. It operated six of these on regional routes until 1993 when the A320 joined the fleet). In the early 1990s, it also operated the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar (leased from Cathay Pacific). And as freighters, it operated the Boeing 747 until 2010.

Cathay Dragon A320
Cathay Dragon switched from the Boeing 737 to the A320 in 1993 – these older aircraft will not transfer to the parent company. Photo: G B_NZ via Wikimedia

Introducing narrowbodies to Cathay Pacific

After Cathay Dragon ceased operations, the majority of the fleet was planned to be added to the Cathay Pacific fleet. The A320s were retired, with most aircraft returning to leasing companies and entering storage.

The A321s are more interesting. When it ceased operations, Cathay Dragon had seven A321-200s in service. Four of these have been transferred to the Cathay  Pacific fleet. This means that the airline will start to become a narrowbody operator (it was previously just a widebody operator since 1983). According to fleet data from ch-aviation.com (as of August 2021), these five aircraft remain inactive.

Dragonair A321
The A321 entered service with Dragonair in 1999. Five of thee aircraft have transferred to Cathay Pacific. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

Cathay Dragon also had 16 new A321neos on order to replace the A320s and A321s. These orders have transferred to Cathay Pacific, with four aircraft now delivered and 12 still on order. The first A321neo flew for Cathay Pacific on August 4th from Hong Kong to Shanghai. These aircraft have also brought a new business class cabin for the airline.

Cathay A321neo Cabin
Business class on the new A321neo. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Increasing the widebody fleet

All 18 of Cathay Dragon’s A330-300 aircraft were transferred to Cathay Pacific. This takes Cathay Pacific total A330-300 fleet to 36.

Cathay Pacific is a major operator of the A330. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Much of Cathay Pacific’s widebody fleet remains grounded and in storage overseas –  in Ciudad Real, Spain, and Alice Springs, Australia. In March 2021, we reported that just 7% of Cathay’s fleet was active, with 92 aircraft in long-term storage. Little has changed since then. For the A330, this means 13 of the fleet are active, with 23 out of service. Whether all these aircraft return to active service remains to be seen.

Cathay Pacific has put nearly half its passenger aircraft into long-term storage. Photo: Getty Images

As Cathay Pacific takes on more regional routes, the future for the new A321neo seems certain. Things are not so clear for Cathay Dragon’s older fleet. While much of this has transferred to Cathay Pacific, its future depends on how quickly service resumes. Feel free to discuss this further in the comments.