Hong Kong has awarded Greater Bay Airlines an air operating certificate (AOC), paving the way for the fledgling carrier to start flying passengers.
The Civil Aviation Department decision, confirmed late on Friday, allows the ambitious carrier to launch charter flights while awaiting an additional licence necessary for its operations, according to sources.
The carrier, which began its application to start flying passengers in July 2020, is led by former Cathay Dragon CEO Algernon Yau Ying-wah and many ex-airline colleagues.
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“Upon completion of detailed and comprehensive assessment of the applicant’s competence and satisfied that he met [the bureau’s] requirements, the director general of civil aviation signed and issued the AOC to Greater Bay Airlines Company Limited in accordance with the established mechanism,” a department spokeswoman said.
The airline is still waiting for a second permit, its air transport licence, to organise regularly scheduled flights, in a decision pushed into 2022. But the AOC would confirm its formal status as an airline.
The awarding of the AOC comes less than two weeks after the regulator, the Civil Aviation Department, oversaw a proving flight – as part of its flight operation inspections into the firm’s procedures – to Bangkok.
The Thai capital, Phuket and Singapore are the first regularly scheduled destinations sought by Greater Bay once it gets both permits.
Greater Bay and rival airlines will meet air licensing officials in December as part of a private hearing to review whether the new carrier should be granted the transport licence and a share of Hong Kong’s air traffic rights.
Without the licence, the carrier is not permitted to sell tickets and cannot start talks with other airports and countries to organise regular flights, prolonging the start-up’s wait to begin generating meaningful income.
Greater Bay Airlines has accused incumbents Cathay Pacific Airways, sister carrier HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines of trying to drag out the application process despite not formally objecting to its bid for traffic rights.
Rival carriers have said any new entrant into the Hong Kong market should factor in the collapse in air travel due to Covid-19 which could worsen the fortunes of some airlines.
After the hearing was delayed to December, the airline pushed back its launch to the first quarter of 2022.
The carrier had initially wanted to launch a charter flight from Hong Kong to Beijing to mark the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.
The Post has contacted the airline comment.
Greater Bay’s first Boeing 737-800 arrived in Hong Kong in early September, helping it ramp up training and accelerate work to secure the two operating permits.
However, the carrier’s original timeline to launch services from October has slipped considerably, and sources indicated it had to push back elements of its hiring, particularly of pilots. A second batch of pilots due to be trained for its second 737 are now expected to arrive in December.
Pilot training got off to a false start when crews were unable to fly to Singapore after the ill-fated travel bubble with the city was scrapped. They were subsequently sent to Miami for months of preparatory work.
Some 150 people are expected to work for the airline by year-end.
In an interview with the Post last month, CEO Yau warned the launch delays were putting unnecessary cost pressures on the business.
Greater Bay, which is hoping to exploit an opening left by the closure of regional carrier Cathay Dragon, has the financial backing of tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau. The man behind Shenzhen-based Donghai Airlines has pledged to invest HK$2 billion (US$258 million) in the fledgling operation.
This article Fledgling Hong Kong carrier Greater Bay Airlines granted air operating certificate first appeared on South China Morning Post