The new low-cost airline Greater Bay Airlines (GBA) is aiming for an inaugural flight on October 1, before launching – if the Covid-19 pandemic allows – a regional network to China, Thailand, and Singapore initially.
Based at Hong Kong-Chek Lap Kok airport and hoping to receive its AOC (Air Operator Certificate) and operating license by mid-September, the new Chinese cheap flight specialist has announced its “symbolic” inaugural flight – a charter flight to Beijing – for October 1, 2021, National Day. Taking advantage of the demise of Cathay Dragon (“swallowed” by its parent company Cathay Pacific, which retains 15 of its 20 routes), GBA has applied for traffic rights on more than 100 routes, half of which are in China; its first international flights should be launched by the end of the year to Singapore, Bangkok and Phuket, according to its website.
Greater Bay Airlines’ initial fleet will consist of three Boeing 737-800s, one of which has already been spotted in its new two-tone livery (D-AAGB registered B-KJA leased from ICBC Leasing and passed through Norwegian), but it hopes to have ten aircraft by next year.
According to GBA director Stanley Hui Hon-chung, interviewed by the South China Morning Post, the main obstacle to its take-off is not the launch in the middle of a health crisis (“we are not rushing to expand quickly”), but obtaining the operating license, as the Hong Kong ATLA (Air Transport Licensing Authority) requires that any airline be financially based in the territory. But its founder and chairman is billionaire Bill Wong Cho-bau, based in Shenzhen, where he previously launched Donghai Airlines. “It’s not surprising that the incumbent airlines would deploy various means to prevent or delay the entry of new airlines,” Stanley Hui said without naming them.
A spokesman for Cathay Pacific told the newspaper that while the company had not formally opposed the launch of GBA, it had “urged” the ATLA to take into account the air transport situation in Hong Kong – where traffic in the first seven months of the year showed 491,000 passengers, a drop of 94.2% compared to 2020. Two other passenger carriers are based in the SAR: HK Express, Cathay’s low-cost subsidiary, and Hong Kong Airlines (a subsidiary of the HNA Group).