Hong Kong International Airport is obviously the home base for Cathay Pacific, with a huge presence at the airport. It is not the only airline, though. There are three other scheduled passenger airlines that call Hong Kong home – HK Express, Hong Kong Airlines, and Greater Bay Airlines. There have been two more in the recent past as well.
Hong Kong Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines is the second-largest airline based in Hong Kong, behind Cathay Pacific. It operates a fleet of 30 aircraft (of which only 11 are currently active, according to data from ch-aviation.com). It operates an all-Airbus fleet with the A320, A330-200, A330-300, and one A350-900. It previously operated the Boeing 737-800 as well.
Photo: KITTIKUN YOKSAP/Shutterstock.
The airline has been flying out of Hong Kong for over 20 years. It started service in 2003 as CR Airways. It became Hong Kong Airlines in 2006 after a change of ownership (Hainan Airlines took a 45% share at this time). It remains part of the HNA Group today – this is the reason why it shares a logo with Hainan Airlines.
It serves many destinations in China and the Asia region. It previously operated much further afield, including to the UK and the US, but dropped these services amid financial problems and scaling back in 2018 and 2019.
Hong Kong Express Airways
Hong Kong Express Airways (known and branded as HK Express) started around the same time as Hong Kong Airlines. It has, however, remained focussed on regional Asian destinations throughout.
The airline was founded in 2004 by local entrepreneur and casino owner Stanley Ho. In 2006, it was partially acquired by HNA Group (along with Hong Kong Airlines). In 2019, the airline was acquired by Cathay Pacific. It remains a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific but operates as a separate brand and low-cost carrier. Hong Kong Express operates an all-Airbus A320 and A321 fleet, with 21 of its 26 aircraft currently active (again, based on data from ch-aviation.com).
Greater Bay Airlines
Greater Bay Airlines is the newcomer to Hong Kong. It started up during the pandemic, looking to take advantage of the space left by the closure of Cathay Dragon.
The airline operated its first flight, to Bangkok, in July 2022, using a leased Boeing 737-800 aircraft. It now operates three Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with services from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo.
Greater Bay Airlines has big expansion plans. The airline placed an order for 15 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft in March 2023. It has also made a commitment for five Boeing 787 aircraft, suggesting possible expansion further afield, although nothing has been confirmed.
Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific dwarfs all these airlines, however, with a huge presence at the airport. It is also, of course, much older. Cathay Pacific started service back in 1946 with just a few Douglas DC-3 aircraft (including the famous Betsy, preserved at the Hong Kong Science Museum, and another aircraft outside the airline’s current headquarters of Cathay City).
It currently has a fleet of 191 aircraft (with 124 active as of March 2023, based on data from ch-aviation.com). As of March 2023, the airline expected to return to 50% of pre-pandemic capacity by the end of the month and to 70% by the end of the year.
Photo: Cathay Pacific
Airlines that no longer operate
Pre-pandemic, there was also another airline serving Hong Kong. Cathay Dragon was a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, operating to many Chinese and Asian regional destinations. It was previously known as Dragonair, and started service in 1985 out of the old Kai Tak Airport. This gave strong competition to Cathay Pacific, with the larger airline taking a share in 1990 and fully acquiring the airline in 2006.
Cathay Dragon ceased service in 2020 amidst massive COVID slowdowns and restrictions in Hong Kong. Most of the fleet (including future narrowbody A321 orders) transferred to Cathay Pacific.
Looking further back, there was another Hong Kong-based airline. Oasis Hong Kong was founded in 2005, with Dragonair founder Stephen Miller as its CEO. It started flying in October 2006, serving London Gatwick and Vancouver with an all Boeing 747-400 fleet. The airline collapsed in 2008 amidst financial problems. Its low fares and high capacity Boeing 747-400 fleet was an interesting model for these popular routes, but ultimately unable to compete with other carriers.
Have you flown with any of the current or past Hong Kong-based airlines? Would you like to share any more details about their history and development in Hong Kong? This has just been a short overview, feel free to discuss further in the comments section.