A public hearing into Cathay Pacific Airways' bid to re-enter the mainland market is increasingly unlikely, raising questions over the integrity of the airline licensing process in protecting Hong Kong consumers' interests. According to a senior-level source close to Dragonair, negotiations with Cathay are continuing in the hope that the two sides will be able to reach a compromise behind closed doors and so negate the need for a public hearing. In September, Dragonair filed a formal objection with the Air Transport Licensing Authority (Atla), an independent statutory body charged with maximising consumer benefit in Hong Kong on air travel, over Cathay's application to fly between Hong Kong and Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, triggering the hearing. The two airlines have been jockeying for market share on regional routes, with mainland destinations, dominated by Dragonair, emerging as the key leverage. If Cathay managed to secure routes to China, it would threaten Dragonair's hold on the highly lucrative market. The Dragonair source told the South China Morning Post that it had never been the airline's desire to have to air its dispute with Cathay in a public forum. 'We don't want an open public hearing. So we're looking at giving the negotiations some more time . . . and to allow the two parties to come to a compromise rather than having to meet up in the High Court in public,' the source said. 'We haven't confirmed a postponement . . . but it is possible that once that happens, the hearing might not need to take place.' The first step in securing a private settlement would be an adjournment of the public hearing, which was ordered by Atla chairman, High Court Justice William Stone, for January 23. This date is now under review due to the availability of lawyers for one of the two parties, according to government sources. The Dragonair informant said the airline had already achieved its aims in filing the objection, forcing Cathay to publicly file its detailed mainland business plan. 'There's now more clarity for Dragonair. It is quite obvious that if Cathay were to obtain all the capacity they want to put on the market, it would be detrimental to Dragonair,' he said. There were no plans yet to drop the objection, as it still served as a negotiating tool with Cathay. The source declined to explain why Dragonair was reluctant to go to a public hearing or what alternatives it was offering to Cathay that would make it drop its licence application, given the economic importance of the mainland routes. Cathay management said it did not oppose the public hearing format.