HONG KONG — Hong Kong's new airline operator Greater Bay Airlines had to delay its initial growth plans due to tight pandemic restrictions in the city.

The airline, which last month was granted an Air Operator Certificate by Hong Kong's civil aviation regulator has yet to set a date for its first commercial flights. Greater Bay Airlines intends to compete with Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific. The second of three Boeing 737-800s leased from China's ICBC Leasing arrived at Hong Kong International Airport on March 16. However, two weeks of hotel quarantine requirements on arrivals should be relaxed before Greater Bay sets a launch date for its operations, the airline's chief executive Algernon Yau says. "I think we would need around three months needed to gain traffic rights and airport slots," Yau said in a phone interview with Reuters news agency.

Greater Bay was initially expecting to operate seven aircraft by the end of 2022, but airlines' growth plans were hampered by the extended and tightened quarantine rules as COVID-19 cases recently increased in the city.

"I think we will operate three aircraft this year, Yau said.

The company is leaning toward a longer-term growth plan to form a modern fleet of up to 30 Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets or Airbus A321neos serving routes in mainland China and Asia over the next five years.

Greater Bay's business model relies on an all-economy class seat and a mid-market model similar to Virgin Australia and JetBlue. The airline is set to position itself between rival full-service operator Cathay Pacific and low-cost subsidiary Hong Kong Express.