Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) will phase out its five Boeing 737-800 aircraft following an order from the Civil Aviation Department banning any further growth until it meets all the safety requirements for operating a bigger fleet.
The department's unprecedented ban imposed on July 17 will stop Hong Kong Airlines from adding aircraft or diversifying into other plane types.
The airline, which is a subsidiary of the mainland's diversified conglomerate HNA Group, operates 20 aircraft, including Airbus 320s, A330s, and Boeing 737-800s on routes to Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and London.
It is due to take delivery of four or five A320s and A330s by the end of the year.
Hong Kong Airlines president Yang Jianhong said that it was not a bad thing for the airline to take what he called a temporary break in its expansion.
With the new Airbus airliners due to arrive, the company will keep its total fleet size unchanged by phasing out its B737-800s.
'[This] will also be in line with our strategy to keep a simple aircraft type in the company,' Yang said.
A Civil Aviation Department spokeswoman said that given HKA's rapid fleet expansion in recent years, the department believed it was time for the airline to consolidate its existing operations.
The ban on further expansion by HKA came just before a signal No 10 typhoon swept through Hong Kong towards the end of last month, causing severe delays and flight cancellations, and leading to disgruntled passengers confronting the airline's ground staff.
Yang attributed the service disruptions, which left hundreds of passengers stranded at HKA's airport counter, to its change of maintenance provider in June.
The carrier enlisted China Aircraft Services Limited (CASL) for aircraft maintenance after contract disputes with its previous contractor Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering.
After the handover, some of the CASL's pushback tug drivers as well as aircraft cleaners left the company, Yang said, leaving CASL understaffed and unable to serve Hong Kong Air fully. Turnaround times for HKA aircraft were therefore disrupted and this led to flight delays.
Yang said it would be two to three months before HKA applied for the ban on its expansion to be lifted.
In its order stopping further expansion, the department said HKA would need to ensure it had the necessary equipment, organisation, staff, maintenance and other arrangements in place to secure the safe operation of a bigger aircraft fleet.
Hong Kong Airlines operates this many aircraft on routes to Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and London