Mainland China and the Hong Kong Government have swept away a rule limiting Hong Kong carriers to operating one-third of the capacity on routes to the mainland.

According to the Hong Kong Government, a new air services arrangement signed with Beijing guarantees that "airlines of both sides enjoy equal opportunity to operate scheduled services". Dragonair, the only Hong Kong airline to operate these services, has made expansion plans in anticipation of the ruling. It plans to increase its 12-aircraft fleet of Airbus A320s, A321s and A330s by 26 aircraft - 17 narrowbodies and nine widebodies - by 2005 (Flight International, 1-7 February).

Six mainland carriers fly scheduled and charter routes into Hong Kong: Air China, China Southern, China Southwest, China Northern, China Eastern and China Northwest. With Dragonair's services, they operate collectively 400 services weekly to about 40 mainland Chinese destinations.

Dragonair has welcomed the arrangement, expecting new cargo growth opportunities to arise from the deal. The airline will convert its regular charter services to Changsha, Guilin, Haikou, Nanjing and Wuhan to scheduled services, allowing it to carry cargo on these services for the first time.

Industry observers expect the eventual relaxation of Hong Kong's current "one airline, one route" rule, however, which could open the prospect of direct competition between Cathay Pacific and Dragonair. Cathay says that it has "no current plans" to begin operating into mainland China.

Source: Flight International