Jetstar Hong Kong, the budget airline being formed by China Eastern Airlines and Qantas, could be operating before year-end, earlier than previously expected.

Senior managers for the airline, part of Qantas’s Jetstar franchise chain, will be recruited from Hong Kong and other places in the region, China Eastern Chairman Liu Shaoyong told the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association this week in Beijing.

Noting that Jetstar Hong Kong currently is applying for an air operator’s certificate (AOC), Liu says, “At the earliest, it will begin operations late this year or in the first half of next year.”

China Eastern and Qantas initially stated that the startup would launch in 2013 when they unveiled their joint venture in March. At that time, the two operators said they would have equal shares in Jetstar Hong Kong, which would have up to $198 million in capital.

If certification is granted, Jetstar Hong Kong will begin service with three Airbus A320s. This fleet will increase to 18 by 2015.

China Eastern’s Liu says it has not been determined if Jetstar Hong Kong will operate into mainland China.

Jetstar Hong Kong will follow the multi-national franchising model used by rivals Tiger Airways and Air Asia, which established carriers in different countries with local shareholders while sharing the brand, websites and information systems.

Qantas also is setting up Jetstar Japan with Japan Airlines. That airline is due to begin services next month, five months ahead of schedule, also with three A320s as an initial fleet.