Hong Kong Airlines has retrenched some pilots and flight attendants and unveiled a plan to focus on medium-haul services using widebodies and let sister carrier Hong Kong Express focus on short-haul.

Hong Kong Airlines says in a statement that in 2009, possibly as early as the middle of that year, it will introduce its first Airbus A330 and launch services to Australia and the Middle East.

It is says it will be "reducing the number of Boeing 737-800 narrowbody aircraft currently in use as we introduce A330 widebody aircraft into service progressively" but Hong Kong Express will be adding 737-800s.

Because of the fleet changes, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express have just retrenched six and three cabin crew respectively and today Hong Kong Airlines will be retrenching six captains and four first officers, it adds.

Hong Kong Airlines/Hong Kong Express general manager of marketing, Louisa Wu, says the group will be suspending its twice-weekly Hong Kong-Xian service at the end of October but it may look to resume the service on 1 April when the summer season starts.

She says the group suspended services to Chengdu following May's Sichuan earthquake but may resume the service next April if demand picks up.

Hong Kong Airlines currently has five 737-800s and is due to receive its first A330 in the middle of 2009 and a second later that year, says Wu.

Wu confirms that Hong Kong Airlines will reduce the size of its 737 fleet and focus on medium-haul routes with widebodies but she says it will still retain some 737s.

Hong Kong Express currently has seven 737s and is adding an eighth in December but this is a new 737 rather than one transferred from Hong Kong Airlines, she adds.

At last year's Paris Airshow in June Hong Kong Airlines signed an agreement to purchase 20 Airbus A330s and 30 Airbus A320s.

China's Hainan Airlines group owns 45% of Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express but the carriers' other shareholders are different.

Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express have merged many back office functions and some of their sales and marketing functions but the two still maintain some different operations.

The group has stated publicly before that it may go through a formal merger but Wu today tells ATI, flightglobal.com's sister premium news site that there has been no further progress with regards to a formal merger.

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Source: Air Transport Intelligence news