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One of two administrative regions of China, Hong Kong has experienced an advancing aviation industry for a number of years. Hong Kong's only civil airport is Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), a leading passenger gateway in Asia and one of the busiest airports in the world in terms of international passengers and cargo flights. With over 85 airlines, HKG is the hub for Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Air Hong Kong, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express. Although Hong Kong does not have a national airline, Cathay Pacific would be the closest to such. The Civil Aviation Department is the aviation authority in Hong Kong, responsible for providing air traffic control services as well as reporting to the Government.
Airports in Hong Kong
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Jetstar Hong Kong licence application rejected: Hong Kong becomes an island of protectionism in Asia
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” (Alice in Wonderland; Lewis Carroll).
The battle of semantics over the issue of Jetstar Hong Kong's compliance with an esoteric and highly subjective definition of the words "principal place of business" appears to be over. As Hong Kong's licensing authority rejected Jetstar Hong Kong's licence application on 25-Jun-2015, Cathay Pacific had successfully defended its market dominance with arguments more befitting of a scene from Alice in Wonderland. It is a precious victory over longstanding foe Qantas, which recently attacked Hong Kong's bilateral access to the Australian market as making no "concession to the legitimate interests of Australian airlines in establishing reciprocal hub opportunities in Hong Kong."
Ironically, the principal place of business test was established to circumvent the fact that Cathay was actually a foreign owned airline operating under a local AOC; consequently it could not be accommodated under typical bilateral air services agreements which required "substantial ownership and effective control" to reside in Hong Kong. For decades, the world made a special exception for Cathay. Today, even though it is based in Hong Kong, nearly two thirds of Cathay's voting rights reside in London with the Swire Group. And 30% of the airline is owned by Air China. It is also a common assertion that Hong Kong Airlines, another opponent to Jetstar's entry, is controlled by mainland-based HNA.
But, in the arcane world of international aviation regulation, logic and good sense is frequently a scarce commodity. The result here, as Alice in Wonderland's delightfully illogical Queen of Hearts would have said, is "Off with their heads!".
Vancouver International Airport charted impressive growth in 2014, leveraging and solidifying its position as Canada’s second largest airport. Vancouver is buoyed by its leading position as the country’s gateway to Asia; but in 2015 it has also secured new service from Air France and Aeromexico.
As it celebrates solid passenger numbers, Vancouver also faces growing competitive pressure from nearby Seattle now that Delta is quickly building the airport into its main gateway to Asia. But a recent expansion of Canada’s transit without visa programme should help Vancouver face the increased competition by giving the airport the potential to eventually connect travellers from Asia to Central and South America.
Overall Vancouver seems well positioned to meet its growth targets, which include handling 25 million passengers annually by 2020, a nearly 29% jump over a record number of customers travelling through the airport in 2014.
As questions reverberate about China's economy and slowing growth, what are the impacts to Chinese aviation, home to the world's second-largest domestic market?
The good news is 1Q2015 traffic from China's airlines is comfortably robust, increasing 13% and surpassing 100 million passengers for the first time. Domestic growth remained at 11%, with Chinese airlines carrying an additional 9 million domestic passengers in 1Q2015 compared to 1Q2014 – equivalent to an additional 656 737 flights a day.
International growth has picked up giant steam, surging 57% in 1Q2015 – equivalent to an additional 64 A380 flights a day. But overall international traffic remains small for Chinese airlines, accounting for only about 7% of total carriage – the same as in 2008 but higher than more recent years. Regional growth has slowed to 5% as Hong Kong and Macau are not as attractive as they used to be.
More worryingly for Taiwan, that market is starting to show a contraction in Chinese visitors, perhaps as they head to seemingly more exotic regional Asian points like Japan, Korea and Thailand. Those three countries will attract the highest growth from Chinese airlines in summer 2015.
HK Express, Hong Kong's only LCC, expects to add A321s to its all-A320 fleet, allowing it to grow, despite constraints on traffic rights and slots. HK Express in Oct-2015 will mark two years as an LCC. HK Express should carry over two million passengers in 2015, and end next year with 15-20 aircraft, including 5-10 A321s.
The carrier has cut over from Travel Sky to Navitaire, enabling connecting itineraries and stronger control over ancillary revenue products. Ancillary revenue accounts for approximately 15% of the airline's revenue, with HK Express CEO Andrew Cowen targeting 20%.
Initial connections between HK Express flights could grow to connecting to/from sister carrier Hong Kong Airlines, with later interlines to/from other carriers that want to use Hong Kong's hub position. HK Express moved into profitability in Dec-2014 and was profitable in the first quarter of 2015, projecting a full year of operational profitability in 2015.
The same pressures plaguing it US global network rivals Delta and United are also creating challenges for American Airlines in 2Q2015 as it is projecting a similar passenger unit revenue decline to United of 4% to 6%.
Similar to United, American recently refined its 2015 capacity targets by a half a percentage point as supply-demand imbalance has become a short-term mainstay in most of its markets. And like United, American believes 2Q2015 should be the low point for passenger unit revenue degradation in 2015.
For the moment US airlines are weathering unit revenue decline in part through lower fuel costs. But at some point energy expense will inevitably rise, and a rebound in unit revenues will be necessary to continue the industry’s sustained profitability.
China Eastern Airlines is taking the lead amongst the country's state-owned carriers in developing an LCC presence. This follows Beijing's embrace and active promotion of LCCs, which it sees as spearheading new growth and being in line with the country's increasing austerity and efficiency targets. China Eastern has converted its subsidiary China United Airlines, based at the smaller Beijing airport of Nanyuan.
China United only flies domestically, and mostly to secondary cities, but in Jan-2015 applied to regulator CAAC to expand its business licence to international services. China United is expected to be given the right to fly internationally from its Beijing home but also Shenzhen.
Shenzhen's international development has been stunted – possibly due to lobbying from Air China partner Cathay Pacific, which feeds on the Shenzhen market – and local carrier Shenzhen Airlines has a minimal international presence. Shenzhen Airlines is majority owned by Air China, meaning China United's international expansion could eventually challenge the Air China group at multiple levels. With time there will also be an impact to the Hong Kong market, although crossing the border is still far from seamless.