Budget carrier Hong Kong Express plans to grow to a fleet of about 15 aircraft this year, and add its first Airbus A321.

The airline's deputy chief executive Andrew Cowen tells Flightglobal on the sidelines of Routes Asia 2015, that the airline is in deep discussions with three to four lessors about the addition of the larger aircraft. He expects the airline to take its first A321 towards the end of the third quarter, or at the beginning of the fourth.

Cowen says the low-cost carrier is considering the larger variant because of slots constraints at Hong Kong International airport, calling it the airline’s “worst business issue” at present. The larger narrowbody would hence allow the airline to add 40 seats at “minimal additional costs” on routes such as Hong Kong-Phuket where it is enjoying high load factors.

Cowen adds that while the airline will add about seven or eight jets to its fleet this year, it also plans to return its five CFM International CFM56- powered A320s to sister carrier Hong Kong Airlines. The aim is to keep to a fleet of A320 family aircraft powered by International Aero Engines V2500 engines.

HK Express is also finalising lease deals for two more A320s which are to be delivered in May.

In the longer term, the target is to grow to a fleet of about 40 aircraft by 2018. This however, Cowen says, is constrained by the limited number of slots at its home airport, which gives the carrier “limited forward visibility”.

Cowen adds that the carrier could also pick up “distressed [A320]neo inventory” along the way, since it is clear that a number of airlines and leasing companies have “over ordered neos”.

Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database shows that HK Express has 10 A320s in services with no further aircraft on order. It operates services from its Hong Kong base to 14 points across China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

Source: Cirium Dashboard