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Dragonair Records

Identifier: H054-06

Scope and Content

These records contain general histories, Dr. William Leary’s contracts and notes, business correspondence, memoranda, financial records, budgets, shareholder and stock information, board of director’s meetings minutes, leases, contracts, flight reports, application licenses, clippings, photographs, inflight magazines that were created and/or collected by the Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Incorporated (Dragonair). The Dragonair Records are housed in thirty-two manuscript boxes totaling 12.8 linear ft.

The records arrived in good condition. The archivists identified ten series, with the first series being the Dragonair General Information Series, which includes general histories and background material about Dragonair, as well Dr. William Leary’s contracts and notes related to the "History of Dragonair" he was working on at the time before his death.

The second series is the Dragonair Business Correspondence Series, which consists of Dragonair’s correspondence with external organizations.

The third series is the Dragonair Internal Memoranda Series, which houses internal memoranda created by Dragonair and related to its functions and operations.

The fourth series is the Dragonair Financial Data Series, which contains material related to the financial obligations of Dragonair. It includes budgets, shareholder and stock information, costs, accounts, and information about board of director’s meetings.

The fifth series is the Dragonair Leases and Contracts Series, which comprises information regarding various lease and contracts undertaken by Dragonair. This includes leases of aircraft, and contracts with ticketing and reservation services, as well as ground handling facilities.

The sixth series is the Dragonair Operations Series, which covers Dragonair’s operational history as an airline. It includes information on the destinations Dragonair serves, the aircraft it operates, as well as information about Dragonair’s insurance, flight reports of individual Dragonair flights, and information about its competitors, chiefly Cathay Pacific and British Caledonian.

The seventh series is the Dragonair’s Government Relations Series, which houses Dragonair’s correspondence and contacts with various governments. These include Hong Kong, The United Kingdom, People’s Republic of China, and others.

The eighth series is the Dragonair Route Applications and Licenses Series, which consists of proposals, submissions, and evidence related to Dragonair applying for air routes. It includes both material in support of Dragonair routes, as well as objections, to competitors, and competitors objections to Dragonair. It also includes full transcripts of Dragonair hearings before the ATLA, the branch of Hong Kong’s government that oversees airline operations and the granting of licenses.

The ninth series is the Dragonair Press Clippings Series, which features press clippings about Dragonair from various media sources. It also contains press releases produced by Dragonair.

The tenth series is the Photographs and Other Materials series, which includes photographs and slides of Dragonair staff, office parties, and special events. It also includes scrapbooks and issues of Golden Dragon and Silk Road, Dragonair’s inflight magazines.


  • 1985 - 2005
  • Majority of material found within 1985 - 1994

Language of Materials

Collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection are open for research.

Literary Right Statement

Permission to publish material from this collection in any form, current or future, must be obtained from the Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Historical Sketch

Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Incorporated (Dragonair) is a regional air carrier flying to destinations in Asia. Dragonair began in 1985 when K. P. Chao, a Hong Kong financier, announced he was considering the formation of a regional airline based in Hong Kong to operate short haul routes to China. Stephen Miller and Lew Roberts, who had been contracted to reform Oriental Pearl Airways, a failing Hong Kong air and cargo service, realized that this was an opportunity to start a new airline. Miller arranged a meeting with Chao through intermediaries, and Chao’s financial group decided to form a regional passenger airline that would operate Boeing 737’s on short haul routes. K. P. Chao would be Chairman of this new airline, with Miller as Chief Executive, and Roberts as Operations Manager.

The next several months were busy with securing offices for the new company, as well as pilots, staff, ground crew, aircraft and the necessary licenses and permits. On May 24, 1985, the airline was incorporated as Hong Kong Dragon Airlines, formally known as Dragonair. A press conference was called on July 4, 1985, announcing that Dragonair would soon begin operations. Airworthiness tests on the aircraft were performed on July 15, with route proving flights for Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department following on July 17. Upon the successful completion of these tests, Dragonair was granted an Air Operators Certificate; and completed its first commercial flight on July 26.

Dragonair began to feel pressure from the established Hong Kong airlines, especially Cathay Pacific. For the rest of 1985, Dragonair operated largely through charter flights to various destinations. The later part of 1985 also saw Dragonair open discussions with China about charter operations. At the end of 1985, it was decided that Dragonair would not be able to pass through the Hong Kong Colonies route licensing process without substantial British ownership. To this end, K. T. Chao, youngest son of K. P. Chao, and Sir Y. K. Chao, both of whom possessed of British Passports, were brought in as Deputy Chairman and Chairman respectively. Helmut Sohmen, of the World Wide Shipping Group, was hired as Managing Director. As a result, Miller and Roberts lost their directorships, and they were given the titles of General Managers.

On Monday, December 2, 1985, Dragonair went before the Hong Kong Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA), the body charged with dispensing airline routes. Dragonair had asked for rights to service ten cities in China. They faced an objection to service these routes from Cathay Pacific. On December 23, 1985, Dragonair received notice that they would be granted eight of the ten cities for which they applied originally. They were denied Beijing and Shanghai, but were invited to refile on those routes later. Dragonair also began charter flight to Thailand and Malaysia at this point. On June 1, 1986, Dragonair was granted routes to serve Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, and U-Taphao, Thailand. They also began regular service along their Chinese routes. In December of 1986, Dragonair added a second Boeing 737, giving them two aircraft to operate.

Dragonair continued to operate on its granted routes in 1987, picking up licenses for fourteen additional cities in China, Katmandu in Nepal, Dhaka in Bangladesh, and four cities in Japan on March 1. They added a license to Johor Bahru, in Malaysia, on March 16, and a third Boeing 737 on March 31. On May 15, Dragonair became a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This was followed by the addition of James Foster, an American, as Chief General Manager. Dragonair added another route when they were finally granted the licenses to Beijing and Shanghai on August 25. Dragonair was also involved in controversy, being linked in the press with the fatal crash of a Thai Airways 737 at Phuket. Although Dragonair was blameless in the accident, the allegations damaged public perception of the company. The rest of 1987 passed uneventfully, although they were awarded routes to two destinations in Korea.

Dragonair continued its operations into 1988, finally unifying their SABRE Reservations system with TAREX PLUS, the computerized system used by Hong Kong travel agents. It also continued to pick up licenses to destinations in China and Japan, as well as starting regular scheduled service on the routes to Katmandu and Dhaka. In 1989, Dragonair made several financial moves. Chief General Manager James Foster left the company, and Sir Y. K. Pao’s equity share stake was acquired by the K. P. Chao family, making K. P. Chao once again Chairman. Dragonair’s continued expansion also required the purchase of a new aircraft, adding a Boeing 757 to their fleet. Changes were made to the way catering services were handled as well.

The year 1990 saw another dramatic change when the Swire Group (the owners of Cathay Pacific) acquired 35% of the Dragonair stock. This led to new agreements between Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, including a fifteen-year agreement to have Cathay Pacific take over Dragonair’s management. Jerry Penwarden of the Swire Group was made Operating Manager of Dragonair.

Throughout the rest of the 1990s, Dragonair continued to operate, gaining new routes, and leasing new aircraft (L-1011s and Airbus A330s); with Cathay Pacific and the Swire Group assuming more of the financial obligations. In 1996, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) also bought a stake in Dragonair. In September 2006, Cathay Pacific bought out Dragonair. The conditions of the buyout stated that the airline continue to operate under the Dragonair name for the next six years.

During the course of three years from 2006 through 2009, Dragonair serviced Bangkok and Tokyo. Plans to add routes to Australia and South Korea were abandoned. The company decided to stop their freight operations, as well. During the same time, Dragonair and Cathay Pacific continued to merge their operations, such as loyalty programs, consolidating offices, ground handling services, etc. On November 21, 2016, Cathay Pacific rebranded Dragonair as Cathay Dragon, which, as of 2020, services almost seventy destinations worldwide including mainland China with an Airbus fleet of about fifty airplanes ranging from A320-200 through A330-300.


“Dragonair Records,” Folder 1, Box 1, Series I, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.
Wikipedia, “Dragonair”, Wikipedia, [Online] 10 July 2020.


12.8 Linear Feet ((Thirty-two manuscript boxes).)


Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Incorporated (Dragonair) is a regional air carrier flying to destinations in Asia. Dragonair began in 1985 by incorporating as Hong Kong Dragon Airlines. Dragonair was granted an Air Operators Certificate and completed its first commercial flight on July 26, 1985. Through the course of the next twenty years, Dragonair continued to expand and added more routes throughout Southeast Asia. However, in the mid-2000s, the airline decided not to pursue further routes and to stop their freight operations as well. During the same time, Dragonair and Cathay Pacific, a competitor, started to merge their operations. On November 21, 2016, Cathay Pacific rebranded Dragonair as Cathay Dragon.

Series Description

The Dragonair Records are arranged in ten series:

Series I. Dragonair General Information 0.4 linear ft. (one manuscript box), 1986-2005.

Arranged by topic.

Series II. Dragonair Business Correspondence 1.6 linear ft. (four manuscript boxes), 1985-1989.

Arranged chronologically by date and there within alphabetically by originating organization.

Series III. Dragonair Internal Memoranda 0.8 linear ft. (two manuscript boxes), 1985-1989.

Arranged by chronologically by date.

Series IV. Dragonair Financial Data 0.8 linear ft. (two manuscript boxes), 1986-1989.

Arranged by topic.

Series V. Dragonair Leases and Contracts 1.2 linear ft. (three manuscript boxes), 1986-1989.

Arranged by topic.

Series VI. Dragonair Operations 2.4 linear ft. (six manuscript boxes), 1985-1989.

Arranged by topic.

Series VII. Dragonair’s Government Relations 0.8 linear ft. (two manuscript boxes), 1985-1989.

Arranged by topic.

Series VIII. Dragonair Route Applications and Licenses 3.2 linear ft. (eight manuscript boxes), 1980-1989.

Arranged by topic.

Series IX. Dragonair Press Clippings 1.2 linear ft. (three manuscript boxes), 1985-1990.

Arranged by topic.

Series X. Photographs and Other Materials 0.4 linear ft. (one manuscript box), 1985-2005.

Arranged by topic.

Provenance Statement

The Dragonair Records were donated to the History of Aviation Archives, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas, by Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Incorporated (Dragonair) on 2006-05-04.

Additional Sources

Additional information can be found in the History of Aviation Archives in the following collections:

History of Aviation Archives and the William M. Leary Papers.


Books and magazines were pulled and cataloged to be included into the HAC monograph and magazine collection.

Image ID

It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission from copyright holders of materials to which this institution does not own copyright.

Images in this collection are identified by a unique number that provides information about the format, record group, collection, series, box, folder, and image numbers. Please use this number when ordering reproductions of images from this collection.

Record Group Code

1 = CAT/Air American Archives

2 = Doolittle Archives

3 = Lighter than Air Archives

4 = George H. Williams, Jr., World War I Aviation Library

5 = History of Aviation Archives

6 = University Archives

7 = HAC Stacks

8 = WPRL Stacks

9 = Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Collection

10 = Belsterling Collection

11 = Closed Stacks

12 = Unidentified

13 = Chance Vought Archives

14 = Twirly Birds Archives

Image Format Code

P = Photograph/Postcard

S = Slide

N = Negative

T = Positive Transparency

B = Black and White

C = Color

Example: 5DAR-1-1-PB1

5 = History of Aviation Archives

DAR= Dragonair Records

= Series Number

1 = Box Number

1 = Folder Number

P = Photograph/Postcard

B = Black and White

1 = Image Number

Images archived in plastic image holders may also have a location code in the format: 1/TL. In this example, the number is the sheet number and the letters indicate the top left position on the sheet. Position indicators are T = top, L = left, R = right, M = middle, and B = bottom. Position indicators may be combined to describe the position on the sheet, as shown in this example.
Dragonair Records, 1985-2005
Thomas J. Allen, PhD, CA
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
First revision by Patrizia Nava, CA. 2020-07-10.

Revision Statements

  • 2020-07-10: 1st revision was a migration to ArchivesSpace by Patrizia Nava, CA.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Division, History of Aviation Archives. Repository

3020 Waterview Pkwy
Suite 11.206
Richardson Texas 75080 US
972-883-4590 (Fax)