Dragonair, a unit of Hong Kong's dominant carrier Cathay Pacific Airways, said on Wednesday that it plans to expand its fleet 20 percent this year by adding six aircraft and will hire more staff to meet growing demand in Asia.
Strong demand from China, Dragonair's largest market, helped boost the regional carrier's passenger numbers by 7 percent to a record high last year despite deepening global economic uncertainty, said Patrick Yeung, chief executive of Dragonair.
Cathay Pacific reported in January that it and Dragonair carried a total of 27.58 million passengers in 2011, up 2.9 percent. It did not provide a breakdown for Dragonair.
The global aviation industry is expected to see a tough year ahead with industry body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasting the industry could lose USD$8.3 billion if the European sovereign debt crisis evolves into a full-blown banking crisis and recession.
Yeung said the planned fleet expansion and network growth would put Dragonair in a good position to grasp opportunities in China and the rest of the region.
"China's economy is expected to rise about 8 percent this year and there are also growth opportunities in Asia," he told reporters.
Dragonair will add four narrow-body A320s and two wide-body A330s. Of the total, two are under Cathay's existing order book while four will be leased, he said.
The airline also planned to upgrade the hardware in all of its planes, including upgrading the seats and providing Internet connectivity on board, Yeung said.
He did not disclose the investment amount.
Dragonair currently has 32 planes, mainly A320s and A330s. It flies to 17 mainland Chinese cities and 16 other destinations in Asia.
It aims to recruit about 450 cabin crew this year or about 30 precent of its existing 1,500 cabin crew members. It will also add 40 first officers and 35 cadet pilots, Yeung said.
With the new capacity, Dragonair will resume several routes suspended during the financial crisis in 2008, including Hong Kong to China's Xian and Guilin, and Taichung.
It will also increase flights to some existing routes and add new destinations, probably in Thailand and South Korea, he added.