Hong Kong Airlines will offer direct flights to the Australian resort town of Gold Coast from today as its management expresses confidence in the outlook for Hong Kong’s aviation industry. The airline, which carried 10 per cent more passengers at 5.6 million people last year, will schedule three flights a week from Hong Kong to Gold Coast, shortening the journey to 9 hours and 10 minutes. Anticipating a rise in demand from travellers from the Pearl River Delta and appearing to be unaffected by the drop in tourists visiting Hong Kong, the airline plans to add nine more aircraft to its current fleet of 27 planes by the end of this year. Bosses also want to recruit 1000 more staff in 2016, from flight attendants to ground crew. “The overall economy isn’t bad now. Spending power of many families remains high,” said Ben Wong Ching-ho, chief operating officer of Hong Kong Airlines. “People’s urge to travel is now stronger than what it was ten years ago, whether in Hong Kong and on the mainland. This drives demand.” When asked whether the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, set to be completed by 2018, could harm business for an airline which also operates flights to major cities on the mainland, Wong said he believed the adverse impacts brought by the railway could be offset by its benefits. “The impact of the high speed rail on airlines will be on short direct flights four hours or less. That’s the negative effect,” he said. “But the rail also brings positive effects. It will drive the economy of the Pearl River Delta with 57 million people. “People said the high speed rail to Lhasa would make airlines perform badly. But, no, they grew...The high speed rail drove local economic development, from exports of agricultural products to exchanges between people and business turnover.” According to the Airport Authority last year, the Hong Kong International Airport handled a total of 68.2 million passengers from November 2014 to November 2015, marking a year-on-year increase of 8.3 per cent.