Greater Bay Airlines has been cleared to fly more than 100 passenger routes across the Asia-Pacific region, providing further competition for Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines.
Hong Kong’s Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA) has awarded the carrier a five-year permit to operate scheduled commercial flights with immediate effect.
The decision covers 104 routes with unlimited frequencies from Hong Kong International (HKG) to destinations in mainland China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea among others. The license includes cargo as well as passenger flights.
Hong Kong’s government welcomed the approval, saying the ruling “demonstrates that the market has full confidence in the prospect of the aviation industry in Hong Kong.”
“The government believes that Greater Bay Airlines will provide more diversified air services to the market and will further strengthen the air transport connectivity between Hong Kong, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and other parts of the world,” a statement adds.
“This will play a positive role in upholding Hong Kong's status as a leading international aviation hub.”
Greater Bay Airlines has been founded by Chinese property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau, who also owns Shenzhen-based Donghai Airlines. Algernon Yau Ying-wah, the former CEO of Cathay Dragon, joined the startup as CEO in early January 2021.
“We are excited to bring a new airline choice to customers, at a time when travellers are yearning for the opportunity to fly again soon,” Yau Ying-wah said. “Greater Bay Area Airlines is committed to contributing to the sustainable development of the aviation industry in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area.”
He added that the airline plans to launch its maiden service “as soon as possible.”
Greater Bay Airlines currently has one Boeing 737-800 aircraft and expects to receive two more shortly. In January, it was reported that the carrier is mulling the purchase of up to 30 narrowbodies, which will either be 737-10s or Airbus A321neos.
Of the 104 routes that Greater Bay Airlines has been approved to fly, 48 are to destinations in mainland China, including major cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shanghai. A further 13 are to Japan and six are to Thailand.
The rights to the routes were made available after being relinquished by axed regional carrier Cathay Dragon, which closed in October 2020 as part of a wider restructure at Cathay Pacific. Before the pandemic, Cathay Dragon's network spanned more than 50 destinations in 15 countries and in excess of 1,100 weekly flights.
Greater Bay Airlines’ planned launch comes as passenger traffic to and from Hong Kong International continues to be severely limited because of strict travel restrictions in place. The airport handled just 71,000 passengers in January 2022, down by almost 99% on the same month in 2020 before COVID-19 began to spread beyond mainland China.