Cathay adds budget carrier to group after buying HK Express

Cathay’s shares have climbed 8.6% this year, compared with the 8.9% increase in the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Airlines Index. (AFP pic)

BEIJING: Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd completed the acquisition of Hong Kong’s only budget carrier as the company expects to lift its market share amid growing competition from mainland Chinese airlines.

Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd, which was previously owned by HNA Group Co, will continue operating as a standalone airline under the low-cost model, Cathay said in a statement Friday.

The deal gives Cathay a crucial piece of business that’s missing from its operations and additional landing slots in Hong Kong, home to one of the world’s busiest international airports.

It also provides Cathay with a new revenue source as the region’s growing economies allow more people to fly, and as Chinese rivals expand with direct long-haul flights, bypassing the need to transit in Hong Kong.

The acquisition is a “practical way” for Cathay to grow its aviation business over the long term, Rupert Hogg, Cathay’s chief executive officer, who’s now also the chairman of HK Express, said in the statement.

It will also enhance the competitiveness of its Hong Kong home base, he said.

Ronald Lam, Cathay’s director of commercial and cargo, who’s been with the airline for more than two decades, will lead the HK Express team, according to the statement.

Additional details of the transaction amount weren’t disclosed in the statement.

In March, Cathay said it agreed to pay HK$2.25 billion (US$288 million) in cash for the purchase and pledged to repay HK$2.68 billion of debt held by Hong Kong Express in the form of promissory notes.

The close appears to be ahead of schedule.

Cathay said in May it expected to complete the acquisition on or before Dec 31.

The carrier was responding to a query following a report that it had delayed its first payment of HK$1.2 billion to HNA, the Chinese group that’s been selling assets after a fallout of a global acquisition spree pushed it deep into debt.

Cathay’s shares have climbed 8.6% this year, compared with the 8.9% increase in the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Airlines Index.

The best performer on the gauge was Spring Airlines Co, China’s first low-fare carrier, which surged 38%.