Nicholas Ionides ATI SINGAPORE Hong Kong's Dragonair has confirmed a major fleet expansion in what observers say is a clear sign that the carrier intends to mount a more direct challenge to the dominance of the former colony's de facto flag carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways.

China-controlled Dragonair announced details of its fleet expansion at the Asian Aerospace 2000 air show in Singapore in February, when chief executive Stanley Hui said the orders are part of a plan to double the airline's fleet by 2005. The carrier's board has also approved a plan to add dedicated cargo aircraft, although full details are not yet finalised.

The expansion plan includes orders for five Airbus A320-family narrowbodies, as well as one A330-300 on firm order, plus two on option. The airline also intends to lease one more A321 and another A330-300 from International Lease Finance (ILFC).

Dragonair operates five A330s, five A320s and two A321s. It is take delivery of a sixth previously ordered A320 from Airbus in June and to take back in 2001 an aircraft leased to Taiwan's TransAsia Airways. It also agreed early in January to lease another A321 from ILFC.

The carrier's ambitious plans are partly tied to a new air services arrangement between Hong Kong and China that allows Dragonair to boost services significantly to mainland China. But Dragonair is also seen by industry observers as preparing to mount a more direct challenge to the dominance of Cathay Pacific Airways.

Although the airline will not directly address questions on the subject, chairman Wang Guixiang stresses that "Dragonair is an international airline" and not just a China operator. He also says the additional aircraft "are for the overall development of Dragonair".

Although from the early 1990s Dragonair was majority owned by Cathay and its parent, Swire Pacific, the regulatory arm of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, CNAC, became the biggest single shareholder early in 1996 after taking control in a political fight over Hong Kong's aviation industry.

Dragonair has since been steadily forging its independence from Cathay, and most expect it to become even more independent in the future.

Its growth has been slowed by a Hong Kong policy restricting one airline to a particular route. Many expect this restriction to be lifted, however, allowing Dragonair to compete head-on with Cathay on key international routes.

Dragonair Fleet


Number in service

Number on order (plus options)

Planned leases











1 (+2)




8 (+2)


*includes one A320, to be returned from lease by TransAsia Airways

Source: Airline Business