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Hong Kong Airlines

Hong Kong Airlines hints at Boeing Dreamliner order to rival Cathay Pacific in long-haul flights

City’s third-biggest carrier keen to hasten its global growth, executive reveals

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 2:14pm

Hong Kong Airlines has hinted it will order new Boeing long-haul aircraft to speed up its ambitious global expansion to rival Cathay Pacific Airways.

In what would be a break from tradition, the city’s third-biggest airline singled out the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Its current fleet consists exclusively of Airbus planes.

George Liu, the airline’s chief marketing officer, said on Friday at a South China Morning Post conference: “To fly long haul, we have to introduce new aircraft. Right now we are still all-Airbus, but ... if we are talking to Boeing about 787s ... that [is a] possibility.”

“We have always been talking to Boeing and Airbus about possibilities,” added Liu, a former Boeing director and 12-year veteran of the US aircraft manufacturer.

We have always been talking to Boeing and Airbus about possibilities
George Liu, Hong Kong Airlines

An airline source familiar with the matter described the reference to Boeing as deliberate.

“Hong Kong Airlines is definitely not going to have an all-Airbus fleet in the future,” the source said.

As part of the its global expansion to compete against Cathay Pacific Airways, the company is due to launch flights to Los Angeles in December; to San Francisco next March; and to New York and London later next year.

Having introduced flights to Auckland and Vancouver this year, the airline is viewed as ramping up efforts to take on Cathay Pacific, the city’s largest carrier.

Hong Kong Airlines last month got its hands on the first of 21 state-of-the-art long-haul Airbus A350 planes. The mainland Chinese-backed company now has 31 passenger planes flying to 36 destinations, mostly in Asia. Adding a new aircraft model would drive up costs and defy conventional wisdom for smaller airlines.

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While only about a quarter of the size of Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Airlines’ ambitions to provide “affordable luxury” to travellers has proved a headache for Cathay Pacific, now fending off competition from mainland Chinese and Middle Eastern carriers, as well as smaller airlines seeking to undercut its dominance through cheaper ticket prices.

Hong Kong Airlines’ interest in new Boeing planes indicated it would look to expand long-haul destinations “rapidly,” according to Ellis Taylor, Asia finance editor at Flight Global. Securing new deliveries would allow them to fly long-distance routes to second and third-tier cities around the world.

Adding new Boeing aircraft “makes them more of a threat against Cathay’s larger network,” Taylor said. But he noted there would be little space to add aircraft at Hong Kong International Airport.

Boeing was involved in a trade dispute last month with Canada and the country’s planemaker Bombardier when it inked closer ties with arch-rival Airbus.

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But the US aerospace giant was given a much-needed lift on Friday, Reuters reported. The mainland’s biggest carrier, China Southern Airlines, said it would buy 38 more Boeing aircraft worth US$5.65 billion at retail price.

Singapore Airlines was expected to confirm a US$13.7 billion order for 39 Boeing planes next week, Reuters also reported.