Hong Kong Express expansion ban lifted eight months after budget carrier cancelled flights before October ‘Golden Week’ holiday
Airline was banned from adding new planes – but got four anyway
The only budget airline in Hong Kong has had a ban on expansion lifted, eight months after disrupting 2,000 customers’ travel plans ahead of a major Chinese public holiday.
The Civil Aviation Department (CAD), which regulates air transport in the city, said on Thursday that after a six-month audit of Hong Kong Express (HK Express), it was satisfied the problems had been addressed.
“HK Express can continue to develop its business as usual,” a CAD spokeswoman said.
Authorities stopped the low-cost carrier from adding new destinations, expanding existing services or taking delivery of new planes from November 2017 to April this year.
But it found ways to circumnavigate these restrictions.
The airline axed flights to Kunming in Yunnan province and reduced daily flights to Hualien City in Taiwan to four a week. It added flights to Kumamoto, Japan – which it had previously flown to for a short period in 2017, meaning under CAD rules it counted as an existing destination.
Its fleet also increased by four, to a total of 24 Airbus A320 series aircraft. The delivery of new aircraft was permitted on the condition they only be used for existing destinations.
The removal of the ban means HK Express can resume competing against its rivals, including Cathay Pacific Airways’ subsidiary Cathay Dragon and its own sister carrier, Hong Kong Airlines.
HK Express cancelled 18 flights between Hong Kong and three cities in Japan and South Korea from October 1 to 8 last year, affecting thousands of passengers travelling during the Chinese National Day “Golden Week” holiday.
In the aftermath of public and political scorn, the airline’s previous leadership team was jettisoned. The furore prompted the Hong Kong aviation regulator to slap the ban on the carrier.
In the intervening months, HK Express brought in a new management team, including a new CEO.
According to the CAD, the airline:
● Hired more safety trainers to train the airline’s workforce – this action stemmed from there being not enough staff to train crews to ensure they could operate flights.
● Reduced the number of changes made to cabin crew flight schedules and boosted the number of standby crew available, to prevent last-minute flight cancellations.
● Handed contract cabin crew and office staff permanent employment, to reduce the fear of staff not having a stable job.
Hong Kong Express said it would add new routes to Bangkok and Pattaya, both in Thailand, soon, while looking to further expand its fleet.
Based at Hong Kong International Airport and backed by the financially troubled Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, Hong Kong Express flies to 28 destinations in Asia.
On Friday the airline said it would add extra flights to Taichung in Taiwan, Da Nang in Vietnam and Osaka in Japan over the busy summer travel period.
In the first five months of this year the airline flew 1.67 million passengers, a 15 per cent increase on the same period last year. It said it was on track to carry 4.5 million in the year as a whole.