Lack of slots at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) and reliability problems involving the Airbus A320neo’s Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines have hindered progress at Hong Kong’s fastest growing low-cost carrier, HK Express.
HK Express is North Asia’s first operator of the Airbus A320neo, and the first to fly it in a high-density, 188-seat configuration. The four-year-old airline currently operates three A320neos, first delivered in December 2016, as well as 12 A320s and six A321s. However, it has deferred recently scheduled deliveries of the A320neo due to the PW1100G’s well publicized reliability woes.
Although Pratt & Whitney addressed industrial shortcomings involving a shortage of hybrid metallic fan blades for the PW1000G family with plans to open two new assembly facilities this year, separate durability deficiencies, particularly in the A320neos’ PW1100Gs, have included premature wear of combustor liners and leaking oil seals.
“We were supposed to received another two A320neos before the summer, but have declined to accept them for a limited period, until these issues have been addressed,” said HK Express CEO Andrew Cowen. He added that the deferment of the A320neos meant the airline would run short of aircraft during the busy summer period. “We should [have had] eight by end of 2017, but this obviously have slipped.”
“It is a difficult decision but we must not leave our passengers and staff [doubting] the reliability of the aircraft,“ Cowen added.
He also highlighted a wish to add more destinations to Japan, China and Southeast Asia, but limited slots in HKIA forced him to prioritize certain destinations over popular ones. “We would love to fly to at least 20 more destinations but we simply can’t get slots and slot timings.”
HKIA now operates at more than 90 percent of its capacity, and authorities have only begun to reclaim land for a third runway and associated infrastructure. Plans call for an expanded HKIA to increase hourly movements from 68 to 102.
Cowen hopes that the U-FLY Alliance will allow the airline to tap into the Chinese market, and he said that the interline booking system between HK Express and China’s Lucky Air should go live within the month, after linking the Chinese booking system with the Western Navitaire system.
“If we can’t get the slots we will use the A320neo to cycle out the older A320, which might not have the same specification as the other aircraft, and form the backbone of the airline with along the A321ceo,” he concluded.