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The three major Chinese airlines all take delivery of their first ARJ21

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Air China, China Eastern and China Southern have all taken delivery of their first COMAC ARJ21 aircraft since June 28. Each of these small jets can accommodate 90 passengers and represents China’s attempt to penetrate the regional commercial aviation market.

Chinese carriers
The three major Chinese airlines have taken delivery of their first ARJ21s simultaneously. Photo: Getty Images

The three major Chinese carriers and the ARJ21

Air China, China Eastern and China Southern all received their first ARJ21 aircraft in Shanghai on Sunday. These jets were incredibly special for COMAC, which stands for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China.

So far, the ARJ21 has only flown for smaller regional airlines. Now, with these three major carriers who will adopt them, the ARJ21 will gain a certain international reputation with the main airlines which fly them in China. In addition, most likely, a decent number of foreign passengers could end up connecting to destinations in China on these planes.

In an ad viewed by Simple Flying, the manufacturer announced that the three planes have an economical all-in-90 configuration. Air China, China Eastern and China Southern are all expected to take three ARJ21s this year.

Announcement of the three airlines simultaneous orders of 35 ARJ21 jets on August 30, 2019. The transactions were valued at more than $ 1.3 billion each, based on a price of $ 38 million per plane. Although the carriers probably received a decent discount on the plane.

Air China

Since December, Air China has been working on integrating the ARJ21 into its fleet. Adding a new type of aircraft has its own additional challenges. Airlines must prepare pilots to be trained on the type, set up maintenance for the type and ensure that the logistics are in place to smoothly enter the commercial service.

Air China ARJ21
The first Air China ARJ21. Photo: Getty Images

Air China plans to use ARJ21 to expand its route network, the statement said. Much of this is likely to be towards smaller regional destinations in China that are currently underserved or not on Air China’s current route map. Based on the jet configuration, Air China will likely avoid placing this aircraft on key domestic routes where there would be intense competition and commercial demand.

New subsidiary of China Eastern

China Eastern created OTT Airlines, a subsidiary created with the express purpose of flying Chinese airplanes. In addition to the ARJ21, the airline will also operate another COMAC aircraft, the C919.

OTT ARJ21 East China
China Eastern has created a new subsidiary to pilot Chinese-made aircraft such as the ARJ21. Photo: Getty Images

Based at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, the plane will not do much to supply the main operations of China Eastern based in Shanghai, Pudong, where is also located COMAC maintains an ARJ21 production line. Instead, these planes will help supplement national routes and operations.

China Southern Airlines

Like Air China and China Eastern, China Southern has worked to ensure a smooth introduction of the ARJ21 into the airline’s fleet. According to COMAC, China Southern has completed preparations for training pilots and flight attendants.

China Southern ARJ21
The first ARJ21 from China Southern. Photo: Getty Images

As for where these planes will fly, the airline turns to Guangzhou, where China Southern has its largest hub and extensive operations. In the early days of ARJ21 service, this will help support reliable operations and help the carrier understand the best ways to operate the aircraft.

Will airlines outside of China purchase ARJ21?

Regional aviation around the world is dominated by the Embraer E170 series, the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet series, the Dash 8 turboprop series and the ATR range of turboprops. In this space, there is a certain development in progress. Mitsubishi is working on a regional jet; Embraer has his E-2 and is studying a new turboprop.

The competition is there. However, it is unclear whether COMAC has a competitive advantage. For Chinese airlines, the purchase of domestically produced aircraft contributes to improving the international position of the aircraft. So far, the three major Chinese airlines have been the most prominent customers of the aircraft.

Exiting the Chinese market will require a lot of work on the part of COMAC. Airlines must take into account such things as support systems, production times and aircraft reliability. Sometimes choosing novice planes for their cost has not worked for some carriers, such as Interjet and its Sukhoi Superjet debacle.

COMAC, China Express Airlines, C919
The ARJ21 is already in service in China, but no major airline outside the country has ordered this type. Photo: Getty Images

The ARJ21 took its first flight in 2008. Since then, the aircraft has not had a high-level presence. Already in operation with local airlines such as Chengdu Airlines and Genghis Khan Airlines, the aircraft did not make the same splash as it brought into service as the Airbus A220.

Adding a new type is expensive for airlines, and many are not currently looking to diversify their fleets. This is what works against COMAC in the current field. However, there may be some room for growth as East Asia – especially China – begins to see a rebound in travel.

COMAC believes that, as the ARJ21 enters into a wider commercial service, it will encourage the sphere of Chinese civil aviation. While this may be true in China, it will be difficult to get major airlines in the United States, Europe, and Australia to connect to the type of aircraft.

The pilots
Pilots pose in the cockpit of an ARJ21. Photo: Getty Images

Much of this will also depend on international certification. Although the ARJ21 is certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), it does not have the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States, which could limit the potential of the aircraft if other regulatory bodies also do not certify the aircraft.

What role would ARJ21 fulfill?

the ARJ21, which has a striking similarity to the MD series aircraft, is a regional jet that can accommodate up to 90 aircraft. COMAC announces that the aircraft can combine and operate on both the main routes and regional operations which make it suitable for “national conditions of China”.

Interior ARJ21
Adapted to regional operations, the three carriers chose to equip the jets with 90 seats. Photo: Getty Images

The market for 90-seat jets is currently dominated by the Embraer E-2 series and the Airbus A220. Even then, this market is not as large as that occupied by the families of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. COMAC could be creative when it comes to finding markets outside China for the A220.

A potential continent for the plane would be Africa. The air market is growing and there is room for new carriers. None of these manufacturers in Boeing, Airbus and Embraer has established customers in the region. If COMAC secures its customers here, this could open the door to additional orders and give the aircraft an international reputation.

Although the delivery of the first ARJ21s to the largest Chinese airlines is a step forward, COMAC still has a lot of work to do to make the type acceptable to international customers.

Are you a fan of COMAC ARJ21? Are you going to fly on an ARJ21 operating under the three major Chinese airlines? Let us know in the comments!


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