Cathay Dragon

Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Limited (Chinese: 港龍航空有限公司), which operated as Cathay Dragon (國泰港龍航空) and was previously known as Dragonair, was a Hong Kong-based international regional airline,[1] with its corporate headquarters and main hub at Hong Kong International Airport.[2] The airline operated a scheduled passenger network to 47 destinations in 14 countries and territories across Asia. Additionally, the airline had three codeshares on routes served by partner airlines. It had an all Airbus fleet of 35 aircraft, consisting of A320s, A321s and A330s.

Cathay Dragon 國泰港龍
Cathay Dragon.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded24 May 1985; 35 years ago (1985-05-24)
Commenced operationsJuly 1985
Ceased operations21 October 2020
HubsHong Kong International Airport
Frequent-flyer program
AllianceOneworld (affiliate)
Fleet size35
Destinations51 incl. charter
Parent companyCathay Pacific
HeadquartersCathay Dragon House, Hong Kong International Airport, Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong
Key people
Employees3,375 (March 2015)
Cathay Dragon
Traditional Chinese航空
Simplified Chinese国泰港龙航空
Cantonese YaleGwoktaai Gónglùng Hònghūng
Dragonair's logo from 1985 to 2016

The airline was founded on 24 May 1985, by Chao Kuang Piu, the airline's present honorary chairman. Its maiden flight departed Hong Kong for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia after being granted an air operator's certificate (AOC) by the Hong Kong Government in July 1985. Dragonair was a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, from 2006 onwards and was an affiliate member of the Oneworld airline alliance. In 2010, Dragonair, together with its parent, Cathay Pacific, operated over 138,000 flights, carried nearly 27 million passengers and over 1.80 billion kg of cargo and mail.[3]

On 21 October 2020 Cathay Pacific announced that Cathay Dragon would cease operations immediately, after publishing plans to cut 5900 positions across the group.[4][5]


A Dragonair Airbus A330-300 in the 1992-2016 livery
A Dragonair Airbus A320-200 taxiing

Early beginningEdit

Cathay Dragon House, the head office at Hong Kong International Airport

The airline was established in Hong Kong on 24 May 1985 on the initiative of Kuang-Piu Chao, the airline's present honorary chairman, as a subsidiary of Hong Kong Macau International Investment Co. It started operations in July 1985 with a Boeing 737-200 service from Kai Tak International Airport to Kota Kinabalu International Airport in Malaysia, after receiving an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) from the Hong Kong Government. The airline began services to Phuket, Thailand, as well as six secondary cities in mainland China on a regular charter basis in 1986. In 1987, the airline became the first Hong Kong-based airline to join as an active member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Dragonair was the first local competitor for Hong Kong's largest airline, Cathay Pacific, in forty years; and since the airline's inception, Cathay Pacific fought vigorously to block the airline's flight-slot applications. In January 1987, the airline announced its expansion by the order of two long-range McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft. However, after a heated hearing before Hong Kong's Air Transport Licensing Authority, the Hong Kong Government adopted a one route-one airline policy, which lasted until 2001. The airline was not able to gain the scheduled routes it needed to compete effectively. The airline was disadvantaged in that Hong Kong's financial secretary back then, Sir John Bremridge, was a former Cathay Pacific chairman.[6][7][8]

Stephen Miller, Dragonair's first CEO, said:

Our arrival on the scene was not hailed very enthusiastically by the then Hong Kong government...we got a lot of opposition from Cathay (Pacific).[8]

It was later discovered that Cathay Pacific was concentrating on a boom in travel elsewhere in the 1980s, and left the undeveloped mainland China market to Dragonair. Forced into accepting less-desirable routes, the young airline focused on the mainland.[8]


In January 1990, Cathay Pacific, Swire Group and CITIC Pacific acquired an 89 per cent stake in the airline, with CITIC Pacific holding 38 per cent; while the family of the airline's chairman Kuang-Piu Chao reduced their holding from 22 per cent to 6 per cent, with the remainder held by minor shareholders. The change of ownership saw Cathay Pacific transferring its Beijing and Shanghai routes to Dragonair, along with a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar on a lease basis. The first Airbus A320 joined the airline's fleet in March 1993 and by December, there was a total of six A320 aircraft. This was followed by the introduction of the Airbus A330 into the Dragonair's fleet in July 1995.[6][9][10]

A further redistribution of shares took place in April 1996, when China National Aviation Corporation purchased 35.86 per cent of Dragonair and became the largest shareholder, with Cathay Pacific and Swire retaining 25.50 per cent, CITIC Pacific retaining 28.50 per cent and the Chao family retaining 5.02 per cent. CNAC's holding was further increased to 43 per cent when it was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on 17 December 1997. On 5 July 1998, Dragonair Flight 841 from Chongqing was the last scheduled arrival at Kai Tak Airport, landed runway 13 at 3:38Pm GMT (11:38pm Hong Kong time).[6][9][11][12]

Operational expansionEdit

Dragonair Boeing 747-400BCF Freighter

In 2000, the airline commenced an all-cargo service to Shanghai, Europe and the Middle East using a leased Boeing 747-200 freighter and a service to Osaka was added in May 2001. The airline purchased two Boeing 747-300 freighters in 2001 and extended freight operations to Xiamen and Taipei in 2002. The airline's net profits rose 60 per cent to HK$540 million in 2002, with cargo operations accounting for 30 per cent of revenues; and freight volume increasing nearly 50 per cent to 20,095 tonnes.[6][9]

All regular flights were converted to scheduled services in March 2000,[clarification needed] with passenger service to Taipei, Bangkok and Tokyo commenced in July 2002, November 2003 and April 2004, respectively. Dragonair Cargo continued to see steady growth and the airline began a Hong Kong–Shanghai freight route on behalf of DHL in June 2003 and leased an Airbus A300 freighter to start a cargo service to Nanjing in June 2004. A second daily European loop to Frankfurt and London, in addition to Manchester and Amsterdam, followed and by mid-2004 the airline had five Boeing 747 freighters and 26 Airbus passenger aircraft. In a bitter Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA) hearings in 2004, Cathay Pacific applied to fly to three mainland cities to which Dragonair filed an objection, saying the move would have an effect on its very survival.[6][9][13]

A new passenger service to Sydney was scheduled to open in the second half of 2005, along with Manila and Seoul as the other anticipated destinations. The airline also planned services to the United States in 2005, at first with cargo flights. It was the airline's intention to more than double its freighter fleet to nine Boeing 747s by 2008.[6]

Cathay Pacific takeoverEdit

By 2005, Cathay Pacific owned 18 per cent of the airline, with its parent, Swire Pacific owned 7.71 per cent; China National Aviation Holding owned 43 per cent and CITIC Pacific owned 28.5 per cent. South China Morning Post reported that Swire Pacific was in advanced negotiations that would see Cathay Pacific taking over Dragonair.[14] This was dismissed outright by Tony Tyler, then chief operating officer of Cathay Pacific who said "We have no plans to change that structure right now... we are happy with the structure of the shareholding in Dragonair at the moment. " Peter Hilton, transport analyst at CSFB, said Tyler's remarks were a "cut and dried" dismissal of the takeover talk.[15]

On 28 September 2006, Dragonair became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific after completion of a major shareholding realignment involving Cathay Pacific, Air China, China National Aviation Corporation Group, CITIC Pacific and Swire Pacific. Cathay Pacific claimed that Dragonair would continue to operate as a separate airline within the Cathay Pacific group, maintaining its own Air Operator's Certificate and with the brand unchanged, with 2,976 employees worldwide. However, the airline would be downsized with five per cent of the airline staff retrenched or transferred into Cathay Pacific. No Cathay Pacific staff were to be affected by this announcement.[16][17][18][19]

By 2009, services to Bangkok and Tokyo; and the expansion planned to introduce services to Sydney, Seoul and the United States had been cancelled and terminated. In addition, the planned nine-aircraft freight operation had also been eliminated, with three Boeing 747-400BCF freighters transferred to its parent fleet while the two remaining parked at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California.[20][21][22][23]

On 7 June 2010, Dragonair received its first second-hand Airbus A330-300 from Cathay Pacific to replace their leased A330s.

Service integrationEdit

Dragonair's own loyalty program, The Elite, that was launched on 12 February 2001, was merged into Cathay Pacific's The Marco Polo Club from 1 January 2007. Existing Elite members were offered similar membership by The Marco Polo Club.[9][20][24] On 1 August 2007, the airline opened a joint regional office with Cathay Pacific in Beijing, that featured a dedicated area for the airline and its parent, and joined the Oneworld alliance as an affiliated member on 1 November, which its parent is a founding member.[25][26] In addition, they opened the first airline-branded arrival lounge, The Arrival, at Hong Kong International Airport on 1 October 2008.[9] The airline's ground handling services subsidiary, Hong Kong International Airport Services Ltd (HIAS), was merged with Hong Kong Airport Services Ltd (HAS) on 1 November 2008 and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific on 1 December 2008.

In January 2016, Cathay Pacific announced it would be rebranding Dragonair as Cathay Dragon.[27] The Cathay Dragon brand became active on 21 November 2016.[28]

Cessation of operations and merger with Cathay PacificEdit

On 21 October 2020, Cathay Pacific announced that it would shut down all operations of Cathay Dragon and merge it with its parent company due to the lack of customers and heavy economic problems brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. This merger marked the end for the subsidiary carrier after 35 years of operations.[29] Cathay Pacific and its wholly owned subsidary, HK Express, would take over Cathay Dragon's existing routes.[30]


The airline operated its own aircraft to 47 destinations including 22 destinations in mainland China from its home base Hong Kong.[31]

Codeshare agreementsEdit

Cathay Dragon had codeshare agreements with the following partner airlines:[32][33]

Pre-merger FleetEdit

Final fleetEdit

Cathay Dragon operated an all–Airbus fleet in a mix of single-aisle and twin-aisle aircraft. The fleet consisted of the following aircraft (as of October 2020):[39][40][41]

Cathay Dragon Fleet
Aircraft In Service Orders Passengers Notes
F B E Total
Airbus A321-200 7[42] 24 148 172 Transferred to parent airline, Cathay Pacific
Airbus A321neo 16[43] 12 190 202 Orders transferred to parent airline, Cathay Pacific[44]
To replace Airbus A320-200 and Airbus A321-200
Airbus A330-300 18[42] - 8 42 230 280 All aircraft and Orders returned to parent airline, Cathay Pacific
42 265 307
24 293 317
Total 25 16

Former fleetEdit

Cathay Dragon Retired Fleet
Aircraft Total Year Introduced Year Retired Notes
Airbus A300B4-200F Unknown Unknown Unknown
Airbus A320-200 28 1993 2020
Airbus A321-200 1 1999 2020
Airbus A330-300 21 1995 2020 6 aircraft transferred from Cathay Pacific.[45]
Boeing 737-200 6 1985 1993
Boeing 747-200F 1 2001 2009
Boeing 747-300SF 3 2001 2010
Boeing 747-400BCF 4 2006 2010 Freighters of Cathay Pacific.
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 1 1990 1995
2 Leased from Cathay Pacific.


Airbus A330-300 in special 20th Anniversary livery at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport
Boeing 737-200 on final approach at Kai Tak Airport in original livery
Airbus A330-300 wearing the new livery released in 2016

The airline's original livery consisted of a thick red-coloured horizontal strip along a white-coloured fuselage with a red-coloured vertical stabiliser. The airline's traditional Chinese and English name and its logo were in gold colour and were painted on the forward fuselage above the red horizontal strip and on the vertical stabiliser, respectively.

The previous livery was in white colour with a red dragon on the cowling and on the vertical stabiliser; and the airline's name written in Chinese red lettering and in English black lettering above and below the front passenger windows, respectively. In addition, there was a 30 cm Oneworld logo next to the first left door and a Swire Group logo on the aft of the aircraft.[46]

On 5 May 2005, Dragonair celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a new Airbus A330-300 (B-HWG) painted in a special livery. The work of art took 14 months to create, from design tender to completed image. The special livery featured a waterside view with a junk and fishes leaping out of the water at the front of the aircraft; a red dragon spread across the fuselage in the daylight; and children playing with traditional Chinese lanterns by the waterside of an ancient village on the left side of the aircraft, representing the past.[citation needed]It also featured a waterside view with a Star Ferry at front of the aircraft; and a red dragon spread across the fuselage in the Hong Kong night sky, representing the present. Stanley Hui, Dragonair's CEO at the time, described the special livery "embodies the spirit of the Chinese dragons of old – a spirit that aspires to excellence".[47][48] The aircraft was removed from service in February 2013, at the expiration of its lease.

On 1 June 2010, Dragonair celebrated its 25th Anniversary, with a special livery painted on an Airbus A330-300 (B-HYF). The livery also bears the slogan, "Serving you for 25 years" on the right side on the aircraft, and its Chinese slogan is on the left side of the aircraft. It also has a golden dragon spreading across the fuselage along with several grey Chinese letters on it. It was repainted to the standard livery in March 2014.

In 2016, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair's parent company, announced that they would re-brand Dragonair to Cathay Dragon. It used the logo of its parent company, using light maroon color. For this change, a new hybrid livery was adopted. The new livery was similar to Cathay Pacific's new livery in the tail logo and font. The major difference was instead of the Cathay Pacific green theme, it had a light maroon theme. The titles read "Cathay Dragon" along with Chinese lettering reading the name. The airline's previous logo was retained and appeared next to the cockpit windows. The new livery first appeared on an Airbus A330-300 (B-HYQ).[49]

On 1 June 2017, In the celebration of the 20th year of independence in Hong Kong, Cathay Dragon received its special The Spirit of Hong Kong livery. It was painted on an Airbus A330-300 (B-HYB), and it was the sister aircraft to Cathay Pacific's Boeing 777-300 (B-HNK), and was retired on 24 September 2020, after its last flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong as KA877.

Loyalty programsEdit

Cathay Dragon shared two loyalty programs with its parent company, Cathay Pacific: The Marco Polo Club (The Club), a loyalty program, and Asia Miles, a travel reward program.[50] Members of The Club were automatically enrolled as Asia Miles members.[51]


Business class cabin of Cathay Dragon
Cathay Dragon economy class cabin

Food and beverages served on flights from Hong Kong were provided by LSG Lufthansa Services Hong Kong Ltd, a Cathay Dragon associate.[52] A variety of regional dishes, such as dim sum, Fokkien fried rice, barbecue pork with fried rice and chicken with Thai sweet chilli, were served on flights into mainland China. However, only beverages and pastries could be served in Economy Class for flights between Hong Kong and Changsha, Clark, Guangzhou, Haikou and Sanya.[53]

In addition, the airline provided a range different newspapers and magazines from around the world, including the airline's in-flight magazine Emporium.[54] Beginning in March 2013, the majority of the airline's fleet was retrofitted with new Business and Economy Class seats.[55] The seats were nearly identical to the new Regional Business Class and new Long-haul Economy Class products offered by parent company Cathay Pacific.[55][56] The new design featured a Cathay Pacific-like ambience infused with traditional Chinese art designs.[citation needed] Seats in both classes were fitted with StudioKA (a rebranded version of the StudioCX inflight entertainment system on board Cathay Pacific aircraft), which featured a 12.1-inch (Business Class) or 9-inch (Economy Class) touchscreen display, a multipurpose controller Audio/Video on Demand (AVOD), support for iOS devices, and a USB port for connectivity to other devices.[citation needed]Worldwide in-seat power outlets was available to all passengers. The new Business Class featured a 21-inch wide recliner seat with 45 inches (narrowbody aircraft) or 47 inches (widebody aircraft) of pitch, while the new Economy Class was 18.1 inches wide with 30 inches (narrowbody aircraft) or 32 inches (widebody aircraft) of pitch. The retrofitting process was completed by the end of 2014.[55]


Subsidiaries and associatesEdit

Since its founding in 1985, the airline invested in airline-related servicing companies, including inflight catering, ground handling and service equipment companies.

The following were Cathay Dragon's major subsidiaries and associates: (as of 23 December 2016)[62]

  • LSG Lufthansa Service Hong Kong Ltd – 31.94% owned
  • Dah-Chong Hong-Dragonair Airport GSE Service Ltd (DAS) – 30%
  • HAS GSE Solutions Ltd – 30%

Hong Kong Airport Services LtdEdit

Hong Kong Airport Services Ltd (HAS), a former wholly owned subsidiary, provided ground handling services to the airline at Hong Kong International Airport. Their services included airside/landside operations, airport lounge, baggage services, cargo services, ramp services, ticketing & Information, station control and flight operations.[63] On 1 November 2008, HIAS was integrated into Hong Kong Airport Services Ltd (HAS), a joint venture between Dragonair and Cathay Pacific, to become one of the Asia's largest airport services providers. On 1 December 2008, HAS became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific.[64]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit

  Media related to Dragonair at Wikimedia Commons