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Harmony Airways, the upstart airline headed by Vancouver entrepreneur David Ho, is gearing up to use high-profile political connections to enter the Chinese market.After naming former British Columbia finance minister Gary Collins as its new chief executive officer yesterday, Harmony hopes to be flying passengers between Macau and Vancouver by early 2006.

"The world is getting smaller and people are travelling more," said Mr. Ho during a splashy news conference at the Vancouver airport. "The opportunities down the road are going to be tremendous." A Vancouver entrepreneur with an interest in exotic cars, Mr. Ho is known as Dr. Ho in B.C. after receiving an honorary degree from the University of Richmond in Virginia. His grandfather made his fortune selling cigarettes in China.

A frequent air traveller with extensive business interests in Hong Kong, Mr. Ho launched what was previously known as HMY Airlines two years ago to offer flights from Canada to Las Vegas and Mexico. His initial plan was to fill a void left in the market by the collapse of Canada 3000 Inc., which went bankrupt in November, 2001.

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But after recently changing its name to Harmony, the company has expanded its service to include Honolulu, Maui and Toronto.

"We consider ourselves to be a boutique airline that aims to develop routes and services as we see fit for the Vancouver market," said company spokeswoman Marie McDonnell.

Harmony currently uses three leased Boeing 757s, one of which was parked outside the departure lounge that was used to host yesterday's news conference.

But Mr. Ho clearly has much bigger plans, and believes he now has the business and political connections to make them happen.

Now that it has hired Mr. Collins, Harmony is hoping to secure rights to fly to China next year, a move that would require an agreement between China and the Canadian government. It would also put Harmony in a position to compete with major airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Air Canada.

Mr. Collins, a 41-year-old former commercial pilot, has agreed to take on the job after spending 13 years in politics.

"Flying has always been one of my major passions," said Mr. Collins, who recently helped political ally B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell balance the provincial books.

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If it can secure regulatory approval from Ottawa, Harmony's immediate goal is to fly into regions that are not well served by the North American airline industry.

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