Hong Kong Dragon Airlines (Dragonair) plans aggressive expansion before its flotation on the stock exchange early next year, chief operating officer Philip Chen says. Yesterday, Mr Chen denied there was a link between the expansion plans and the listing timetable, as new destinations had been planned long before talk of a float ever took place. He also said the airline would continue to focus on regional routes, mainly to China, and countered rumours it had its sights set on challenging Cathay Pacific Airways on long-haul routes. 'Dragonair is Hong Kong's regional airline,' Mr Chen said. 'By regional, I mean five hours flying time from Hong Kong. That circle from Hong Kong covers all the major cities in China and Asia, and that circle covers half the world's population.' Mr Chen said the airline, which plans to launch a new route to the southern Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung on July 31, also would increase services to China and Japan. In China, existing charter flights to Qingdao, Chengdu and Xian would be converted to scheduled services in August, along with increased frequencies. The airline would also decide soon whether to fly to Urumqi, and either Shantou or Chongqing, but technical hurdles had to be overcome before Urumqi services could be launched. Dragonair was granted new mainland rights were granted last month as part of an agreement on air services struck between Britain and China. This followed two years of requests to increase its existing 14 routes to China, and came days after state-owned China National Aviation Corp (CNAC) took a controlling 35.86 per cent stake in the airline for $1.97 billion. That deal, under which CNAC promised to halt plans to set up a new airline in the territory, also saw Beijing-backed Citic Pacific increase its stake in Swire Pacific-owned Cathay to 25 per cent from 10 per cent As part of the deal, Dragonair was to be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange 'as soon as practicable'. Airline officials have said this was likely either late this year or early next year. General manager for planning and international affairs, Augustus Tang, said existing services to Hiroshima and Sendai would be increased by 50 per cent in September and October. The airline would be able to handle that increase with its existing fleet, of seven Airbus Industrie A320s and four A330s. However, new services being considered - including Niigata, north-west of Tokyo, and Pusan, south-east of Seoul - would require new aircraft, some of them this year, he said, adding that additional A330s were likely to be acquired by the end of the year.