Greater Bay Airlines' hopes for 2021 launch dashed by Hong Kong inquiry

Greater Bay Airlines' first plane touches down in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (South China Morning Post photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong air authorities will hold a private inquiry in late December into Greater Bay Airlines' (GBA) bid to become the city's newest carrier, two sources have said, a major delay that will derail the fledgling company's hopes for a 2021 fourth-quarter launch.

Sources told the South China Morning Post that the closed-door hearing would see the nine-member Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA) panel dissect the carrier's detailed submissions and weigh responses from rivals Cathay Pacific Group and Hong Kong Airlines.

After its first hearing on Sept 1, GBA was told there would likely be a second hearing attended by the two existing carriers.

But deploying what people with knowledge of the event described as "stall tactics", Cathay requested 28 days to prepare documents for the follow-up session.

The ATLA subsequently decided to opt for a private inquiry that would be conducted in late December.

The intrigue ratchets up a brewing behind-the-scenes battle between Cathay Pacific and Greater Bay Airlines, as Hong Kong's de facto flag carrier faces accusations of blocking the newcomer's path to the skies.

Greater Bay Airlines took delivery of its first aircraft, a Boeing 737, on Tuesday, and began test flights with its own pilots on Wednesday.

The airline had hoped to officially launch on Oct 1, with the first flight coming on the 72nd anniversary of China, but that symbolic target date will now be missed, according to a company source.

The airline is also working towards securing its Air Operating Certificate, which it previously said it expected to get on or around Sept 17, but the ATLA license would still be required to operate scheduled passenger and cargo flights.

The airline's CEO is Algernon Yau Ying-wah, a Cathay veteran who took the top job at the new carrier after retiring from the airline group. Greater Bay Airlines director Stanley Hui Hon-chung is also a former Cathay senior executive and still sits on the board of Air China, Cathay's major shareholder.

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