With the abolishing of the one route/one airline policy in 2001 both Cathay and Dragonair applied to serve routes the other operated reintroducing an element of competition between the two. The future of Dragonair however wasn't to be in antagonism with its old rival and shareholder but in greater partnership. With continuing infiltration of the Hong Kong market by low-cost airlines and premium upstarts Dragonair is more focused than ever on providing its best service.
Cathay reintroduced service to Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen competing against Dragonair in 2003, whilst Dragonair applied for the Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo and Sydney routes that cathay operated. In the end not all of these services were started as yet again Cathay came calling and on September 28, 2006 Dragonair became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. The purchase came off the back of Dragonair flying over 5 million passengers in 2005 (its highest number ever) and in October 2006 having received its 16th A330. Clearly Dragonair was perceived as both a threat and at the same time a valuable growth opportunity by Cathay.
Dragonair has continued to operate as a separate brand, however a planned rebranding to a more premium style was scrapped as Dragonair instead focused again on its links to Mainland China. Cathay in fact initially shrunk the airline by 5% and some routes were realigned towards more leisure oriented destinations, which were also a better fit for the airline's narrowbody fleet than Cathay's widebody only aircraft. In a typical week in January 2013 Dragonair ranked 4th in terms of international seat capacity to mainland China with nearly 160,000 seats, more than twice the number 5 airline (Asiana) and only less than the big three Chinese carriers (Air China, China Eastern and China Southern). Cathay itself did not feature in the top 20.
The fleet has continued to grow, though most of the earliest A330s have been returned to their lessors from 2009. Reinforcements have come in the form of ten ex-Cathay A330s from 2012 with the A330 fleet currently standing at 18 aircraft. In 2010 the 1998 build B-HYF was repainted into a special scheme called “Serving you for 25 years” to mark the airline’s 25th anniversary. She was repainted into Dragonair’s standard scheme again in March 2014. By December 2014 the fleet had grown to include 41 Airbus aircraft of which 15 are A320s and 8 A321s.
Facing increased competition from low cost carriers like Spring Airlines and Hong Kong Express, as well as premium airlines like Hong Kong Airlines, Dragonair has in recent years embarked on a major upgrade of its product offering, especially its aircraft interiors. Together with its strong interline relationship with its parent (and its affiliate partner Oneworld alliance membership) Dragonair has been able to sustain record years and continues to grow both itself and its partnership with Cathay Pacific.
Photos from the author's collection of visits through HKIA in 2008 and 2010
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: