The 1990s began dramatically for Cathay Pacific. Fleet modernisation was underway: orders for US$9 billion (HK$69.9 billion) of new aircraft – including the new Boeing 747-400 jumbo jets – were creating one of the youngest fleets in the sky.
Cathay Pacific’s non-stop, long-haul ambitions were matched by its growing network – but demand for air travel in the region also turned the airline’s attention closer to home.
In January 1990, Cathay Pacific and parent company Swire bought a 35 per cent shareholding in Dragonair, a Hong Kong carrier established in May 1985 by textile magnate Chao Kuang-piu. For Cathay Pacific’s international passengers, the deal meant greater connections via Hong Kong to the region – especially Dragonair’s route on the Chinese mainland. It also strengthened Cathay Pacific’s regional presence and ties to China in the run up to the 1997 handover.
Cathay Pacific’s Beijing and Shanghai routes transferred to Dragonair, along with a leased Lockheed L-1011 TriStar to service them. The Dragonair fleet also continued to grow with its first Airbus A320 delivered in March 1993. By 1995 there were Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft in Dragonair livery flying the skies across Asia.
Dragonair eventually became a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific in 2006. While its owners changed, Dragonair’s brand identity went largely untouched.
That changed last year. This month marks six months since the rebrand to Cathay Dragon. The most obvious change was to the livery: the dragon on the tailfin moved to the nose of the plane, to make way for Cathay Pacific’s brushwing design in red.
The two airlines are – and will remain – separate entities. But what the rebrand did do was bring both Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon closer in identity.