Slots proving headache for Hong Kong Express

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Hong Kong Express has singled out the lack of slots at its home airport as the biggest constraint to its short-term growth plans.

Deputy chief executive Andrew Cowen tells Flightglobal in an interview that the low-cost carrier is having difficulty getting slots at Hong Kong International airport.

“It’s actually my single business issue,” he says. “We wanted to get to over 20 destinations this year, but that simply needs slots before anything else.”

Hong Kong Express was relaunched as a low-cost carrier in October 2013. It now operates a fleet of five Airbus A320s and flies to eight destinations in China, Southeast Asia and Japan. This year it plans to add five more aircraft to its fleet, and has announced that it will launch services to Seoul Incheon and Fukuoaka.

The airline is facing a possible competitive threat from Jetstar Hong Kong, which is waiting to see if the Hong Kong government will issue it an air operator’s certificate.

Cowen says that Jetstar Hong Kong will face the same slots issues that Hong Kong Express has, which could stall their plans to grow rapidly.

Over the long term, the airport is going through the approval process to build a third runway, but this will only be operational around 2023 at the earliest. Cowen says in the short term, the airport needs to work on optimising its current infrastructure to unlock more slots.

“Undoubtedly from what we can see, the runways are not being used to the same level of utilisation as the other really big twin runway airports like Dubai or Heathrow,” says Cowen. “The airport will be looking at those other airports to see how it can sqeeze those extra slots out.”