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Hong Kong International Airport

New routes, smaller seats and 20 years on Chek Lap Kok: what 2018 has in store for aviation in Hong Kong

Links to Ireland and Denmark will be followed by Cathay’s ultra-long 17-hour route to Washington later in the year, but be prepared to get cosy at the back as seats in economy go 10 abreast

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 December, 2017, 8:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 December, 2017, 11:20pm

New flights to the city, a squeeze in economy with more seats at the back and a landmark anniversary are among the aviation highlights to be expected in Hong Kong in 2018.

A number of celebrations are planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) on July 6, with details to be released soon.

Among the new routes already announced, Ireland and Denmark will be the latest countries to link up with Hong Kong, opening up more trade and tourism possibilities. The Emerald Isle gains its first direct flight to Asia.

By midyear, revamped Boeing 777-300 planes – decked out with narrower seats, meaning rows of 10 seats in economy class – will enter service for Cathay Pacific Airways.

It is hoped the extra seats will allow more people to fly as planes get fuller.

The airport should benefit from a tailwind into the next 12 months after strengthening its position as the world’s busiest cargo airport, benefiting from a global upturn in trade and economic growth.

Airport bosses will hope passenger growth continues, with the airport on track to top 73 million fliers by the end of 2017.

HKIA already serves more than 200 destinations through passenger flights and freighter-only services. That number would rise to at least 210 routes with the addition of new passenger flights to Washington, Dublin, Brussels and Copenhagen next year.

When Cathay, Asia’s largest international airline, adds an extra seat to each row of its Boeing 777 planes in economy class, it will amount to tens of thousands of extra seats in 2018. While the suggestion of 10 abreast has been unpopular, Cathay claims the smaller seats will come with more comfortable padding for an easier sleep on long-haul flights, better storage and an even larger in-flight TV screen.

The city’s flagship airline will be kept on its toes by Hong Kong Airlines’ ongoing expansion into Cathay’s bread-and-butter long-haul business. Its rival will kick start flights to San Francisco in March followed by London in October and New York by December.

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Up to 20 new aircraft ordered by local airlines will arrive throughout 2018.

Hong Kong Airlines is hinging its growth spurt on the Airbus A350-900. Its deliveries will arrive furnished with a highly competitive business class seat to better compete against Cathay.

However, Cathay Pacific will be the first Asian airline to fly the larger variant of new Airbus aircraft, the A350-1000, that is set to arrive in April barring any unforeseen production delays. That aircraft will allow new ultra-long distance routes of up to 17 hours to be flown from Hong Kong – the first being Washington in September.

Cathay will also lift the covers off The Deck – its newest revamped premium airport lounge in Hong Kong after a long period of refurbishment – in the early part of next year.

As for budget airline Hong Kong Express, it would be free to add new flights and expand its existing destinations portfolio from April. The airline was slapped down by the civil aviation regulator after mishandling flight cancellations over a major Chinese public holiday in October.

Initial data available for the first quarter of 2018 to and from Hong Kong shows a modest 2.3 per cent expansion in the amount of seat capacity to 11.1 million.

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Mayur Patel, from travel intelligence company OAG Aviation which supplied the data, said: “I would describe [the] level of growth as [typical for] a mature and … capacity-constrained airport such as Hong Kong.”

Much of the early expansion was coming from Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express, he said.

“The data doesn’t show huge growth in activity from Cathay Pacific, in fact a slight decline while for Cathay Dragon there is an increase and I suspect what we are seeing is the alignment of routes and frequencies across the two airlines,” Patel said.

“There is also a quite noticeable increase from Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express with [the former] having added three new city pairs over the 12-month period.”