Cathay Pacific believes that there must be "fair and reciprocal" opportunities for all airlines when an application from a proposed Hong Kong-based low-cost carrier is considered by the authorities.
The Oneworld alliance member has also not ruled out setting up a low-cost venture itself if Jetstar Hong Kong - a joint venture between Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines and Australia's Qantas Airways - gets the go ahead, its chief executive John Slosar said in a wide-ranging interview with Flightglobal publication Airline Business.
© Law Kian Yan/Solotree.com
Jetstar Hong Kong's application is being studied by regulators, and some believe that it may require a change in the laws, or at least a fairly liberal reading of them, to obtain approval as both China Eastern and Qantas are not designated carriers in Hong Kong.
In most Asian countries, only an airline that already has a presence in the country can set up a new carrier. A foreign carrier would usually need a domestic partner and is restricted to a maximum stake of 49% in the joint venture.
"We have made our views known - there has to be fair and reciprocal opportunities for all airlines. A scenario where one side gets things and the other side gets something in return, I don't know where that leads to," says Slosar.
"Every place has designation criteria for airlines. Australia has it, China has it, everybody has it at the moment. Airlines are not a 'go where you please' kind of business. It is still highly government-regulated."
While Slosar would not elaborate or directly confirm the crux of Cathay's opposition to the proposed joint venture, the Oneworld alliance member is believed to have brought up the fact there are restrictions on airlines that wish to set up an operation in places like China and Australia.
If Jetstar Hong Kong does get the green light, however, it will provide stiff competition to Cathay and its regional subsidiary Dragonair on the highly lucrative short-haul routes.
Slosar, however, says that Cathay "competes every day" with low-cost carriers such as AirAsia, Jetstar Asia and Tiger Airways on services to multiple points in Southeast Asia and soon, on services to Japan. It has held its own and in some cases, even won market share against the new entrants.
"Nobody is obligated to buy Cathay or Dragonair tickets. I have to give you great reasons to choose Cathay Pacific for your travel. One of the very complicated things in the business is that you have to be a fine dining restaurant, providing fabulous beds and great service in first and business class, and then something in between in premium economy, and back in economy, giving people fabulously great fares to get them to climb into your aircraft," he adds.
Industry sources say that Qantas first approached Cathay about the possibility of setting up a low-cost joint venture, but Slosar says that those discussions did not result in his airline "getting anywhere near to" becoming an investor in Jetstar Hong Kong.
He adds that Cathay will always keep a close watch on developments as it is about keeping the airline "more competitive in the market place", and that he and his colleagues are "out there knowing that we have to attract customers".
When asked if that could be an impetus for Cathay to get into the low-cost business, Slosar says: "It could be."