Hong Kong air services negotiators will soon open talks with their mainland Chinese counterparts that could give Cathay Pacific Airways important new rights to serve the country.

The discussions, to be held in Beijing this month, are scheduled to produce a new "air services arrangement", rather than a formal "air services agreement". Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty by the UK in 1997. The last Hong Kong-Beijing air accord was signed in February 2000.

Cathay Pacific Airways stands to be the biggest victor should additional capacity be agreed, as is widely expected. The airline recently reinstated flights to China, after an absence of more than a decade, with thrice-weekly flights to Beijing. It was licensed by Hong Kong authorities last year for 21 weekly services to both Beijing and Shanghai and for three weekly services to Xiamen, although it has not been able to take advantage of its full allowance due to restrictions in the existing air services accord between Hong Kong and Beijing.

The existing pact only allows one Hong Kong-based airline to operate to Chinese mainland destinations apart from Beijing, which can be served by more than one carrier. Hong Kong's second-largest airline, Dragonair, currently uses most of the China rights that are available.

An IT company based in Guangzhou plans to establish a new airline in China to operate in the western parts of the country. Yinglian (Eagle United) Airlines is hoping to start "feeder" operations later this year from a base at Chengdu, the capital of the south-western province of Sichuan.

Source: Flight International