Licences in Hong Kong should only go to genuine home-base carriers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 4:48am

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Edward Lau, CEO of Jetstar Hong Kong, in his article ("Hong Kong needs its own home-based budget airline", May 13).

He was right that Hongkongers deserve more airline choices, in particular low-cost carriers. They provide more competition amongst airlines and more low-cost travelling options. As passengers, we can only benefit from the lower air fares, better services and more convenient flight schedules. Therefore, a home-based low-cost carrier is the natural direction.

I can tell Mr Lau that there already is one. The transformation of Hong Kong Express Airways into a Hong Kong-based low-cost carrier must have been a move welcomed and celebrated by Mr Lau, if he meant what he wrote.

However, he probably had other considerations in mind, such as whether a licence will be issued to his employer by the Air Transport Licensing Authority.

If the licence was what Mr Lau was after, then he missed out the other side of the argument in his article, because the demand for a home-based low-cost carrier is not, and cannot conceivably be, the only relevant factor.

There are certainly legal requirements in the relevant ordinances and regulations, but one of the most critical factors to reflect on is the protection of local businesses and jobs. It is important to ensure that Hong Kong-registered carriers, whether full-service or low-cost, should have their principal place of business in Hong Kong.

While Hong Kong is known for welcoming foreign business investments, civil aviation may be an area that justifies an exception, since flight quotas provided to Hong Kong carriers under the bilateral air service agreements negotiated with other countries are fixed at a certain number, and quite a few of them have been filled or will be filled soon. It would not make sense to allow carriers employing people abroad and channelling profits back home to take up Hong Kong's valuable quotas.

In this regard, it would have been wise for Mr Lau to address his employer's ties to its Australian parent firm.

It would be different if more open skies agreements are struck with foreign governments, but they require mutual agreement by both sides. In their absence, it is only prudent to keep airline licences exclusive to real home-based carriers.

Nonetheless, I would lend my support if Mr Lau is lobbying for a genuine home-based and home-grown low-cost carrier to be established in Hong Kong.

Sunny Hor Tsz-ching, Siu Lam