A new image may be in the works for Dragonair, judging from three photographs that appear to herald a brand relaunch.
One of the pictures shows a model standing in front of a plane with the words "Cathay Dragon" emblazoned across it. Industry insiders say the images are part of a genuine effort to sort out the future relationship between Cathay Pacific and its wholly owned subsidiary.
The pictures have been circulating among Dragonair employees. The airline said: "The photos are not from us," but would not say if it had commissioned the photography.
When Cathay Pacific bought Dragonair for HK$8.22 billion in 2006, it said it would allow Dragonair to operate under its own brand for six years. The deadline passed last year.
One airline source said: "Dragonair is much better known in [mainland] China than Cathay Pacific, whereas in the rest of world it's the other way around, so there are reasons why maintaining the status quo makes sense."
Michael Wong Kai-wo, chairman of the 1,200-strong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants Association, said his colleagues found the images on a website in December.
Now employees were abuzz with talk about a prospective makeover, said Wong, who did not supply the pictures to the South China Morning Post.
He identified the woman in one photo as a Dragonair flight attendant and one of the two men as a company pilot.
The lettering is partly obscured, but it leaves little doubt as to the name or new dragon design on the planes. The photos may reflect an attempt to align the airlines' corporate images, down to the Cathay-like shade of green lettering in the words Cathay Dragon on the fuselage.
A Dragonair spokesman said it had been "looking at design propositions in enhancing the airline's image and service positioning, which is a rather lengthy process, and no decision on any design has yet been made".
Separately, Wong said: "We asked the company in a meeting last month if it would be renamed. The company said if it really happened, we would be informed. They said they had no such plan so far."
Airline insiders said the images had been published on online flight crew forums, and were among various options the Cathay management had studied to consider how the carrier could go forward with Dragonair. No decision had been taken, they said.
The source said there were various reasons why the two airlines maintained their individual air operator's certificates. The certificates are issued by the Civil Aviation Department, which has to establish whether airlines have the resources and experience to operate aircraft safely.
"I guess it's not surprising that under the same group banner, they are looking at how best to handle branding questions," the insider said.
But he pointed out that Dragonair had recently introduced a new uniform and was starting a cabin revamp of its aircraft costing hundreds of millions of dollars, "so any branding changes that might happen are presumably at least three to five years away".
Cathay declined to answer Post inquiries and said it would pass the questions to Dragonair.