Dragonair, a sister concern of Cathay Pacific Airways, has recently launched direct flights between Kolkata and Hong Kong, marking a comeback of the group to the city after four decades. With the upcoming launch of Cathay Pacific flights to and from Hyderabad from December 2, the group will be exhausted of all its traffic rights in India.
Patrick Yeung, CEO of Hong Kong-based Dragonair tells Probal Basak the airline is exploring the all possible Indian destinations for future expansion. However, the group does not have any intention to buy a stake in domestic airliners, although it welcomes government's decision to allow foreign airlines to acquire up to 49 per cent stake in domestic airliners. Edited excerpts:
The Kolkata launch of Dragonair is in a way a comeback of Cathway Pacific after 40 years. What is your expectation from this new service?
India is a very important market. Cathay although has stopped flying from Kolkata, it has been operating in many other cities like Delhi, Madras. For Dragonair, this is the second destination after Bangalore. The launch of four days a week direct flights is a conscious decision. We would love to increase the frequency of flights between Kolkata and Hong Kong. But I think, we will do it once we have the opportunity. Normally, for new operations we look at six months.
Both Cathay and Dragonair to is now having India operation. How do you plan to go ahead with your network expansion plan in India with two airlines?
Cathay had been a strong shareholder in Dragonair, even before it was part of the group. Since we are now 100 per cent owned subsidy of Cathay there is much much more greater synergy between the airlines. India is a big market. There is bilateral ties between India and Hong Kong. If we want to fly more to new destinations that has to be under authorities of two government. We will maximise the opportunity.
Obviously Cathay and Dragonair holding two different operating certificates. We are two different brands. Both offering premium services but in terms of focus on the market we are developing there are differences. The only common ground is that there is one hub between two airlines in Hong Kong. Mainland China has always been our key market. Cathay is much more smaller in that market, but very big internationally with its long haul service. There is already fair bit of overlapping of routes. Now a part of our destinations are outside China. For us it is more about mainland china. But now we are in South Asia also. Importantly it also depends on who gets the traffic rights.
What are the Indian cities you are looking at for expansion of operation?
With the launch of Hyderbad services by Cathay in December we will be exhausting all the traffic rights. We are studying all the markets. If there is opportunity we will surely make a plea to our government to convince Indian government. If we compare with China, India is so far much more restrained in expansion of air connectivity. If the market is big enough, there Dragonair can get into a city in which Cathay is already present.
We do not want to come somewhere, and then pull out. We have to make sure there is traffic. We always look into that. We normally start with three-days a week. Once the market is more controlled, we increase the capacity and frequency.
Any plan about cargo operations in India?
Cargo is a very important part of what our group does. It is potential area. When Dragonair became a member of Cathay, Dragonair released all freight operation and merged it with Cathay freight operation which was much bigger. Cargo strategy is much more under Cathay management. Whenever there is an opportunity in freight operation , we look into that.
How do you see Indian government's decision to allow foreign airlines to acquire up to 49% stake in domestic airliners? Has your group any intention to make investment in the sector in India at any point of time?
It is a welcome change that make Indian aviation sector stronger. But it is not something we are going to involved in. It is not the model we follow. We are not interested in India. We have to look at what suits us.