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Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines first ARJ21s at the delivery ceremony. (Photo: COMAC)

China’s Three Major Airlines Receive First COMAC ARJ21 Aircraft

China’s three largest airlines — Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines — took delivery of COMAC’s ARJ21 aircraft, China’s first domestically developed regional jet, on Sunday. The  90-seater short-haul aircraft is manufactured by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). China’s three biggest airlines are currently slated to receive their second ARJ21s by the end of 2020.

“The ARJ21 was formally incorporated into the fleets of Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines,” COMAC said in a statement made on Sunday.

The manufacturer was created with the goal of ending Bombardier and Embraer’s dominance in the regional jet market. According to the company, more than 100 ARJ21s will be delivered in the next five years.

The manufacturer and the airline companies set the delivery date to June 28, the fourth anniversary when the first ARJ21 entered commercial service with its first operator, Chengdu Airlines. With 32 aircraft, the Chengdu, China-based airline is currently the largest operator of the type.

Air China, China Eastern and China Southern ordered 35 ARJ21s each in August 2019. A total of 105 Chinese-made jets will be delivered to the Chinese carriers between 2020 and 2024.

China’s mainstream airline companies received their first-ever made-in-China aircraft at the Pudong Base, COMAC’s assembly and manufacturing center. The simultaneous delivery of the three aircraft marks the official entry of the ARJ21 aircraft into the fleets of China’s major airlines.

“According to market demand, Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines combined with their own fleet planning and route layout, carried out the special selection and sent experienced engineering representatives to strictly supervise the aircraft manufacturing process. The three ARJ21 aircraft delivered to Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines all have a 90-seat all-economy class layout. This year, Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines will each receive three more ARJ21 aircraft,” COMAC’s statement continued

According to Air China officials, the airline made all necessary preparations for the introduction of ARJ21 aircraft, establishing a special division for the newly-introduced airliner to manage fleet construction, training, personnel reserve, logistics support, aircraft maintenance and flight crewing.

China’s flag carrier will operate 35 ARJ21s by 2024, principally flying them between capital Beijing and inner Mongolian cities.

“The introduction of ARJ21 aircraft will provide stronger support for Air China to further expand its route network, optimize its fleet structure, and enhance its competitive advantage,” said the airline in a prepared statement.

A New Airline for New Jets

On Feb. 26 this, China Eastern rebranded its executive jet division — China Eastern Business Jet — as 123 Aviation, which also goes by the name OTT Airlines. The new subsidiary of the airline will mainly operate domestically produced ARJ21 and C919. The idea behind the establishment of the subsidiary is that the company wants to protect its brand image from being hurt by operating those smaller jets, which are largely untested from a customer experience standpoint. OTT Airlines plans to operate 35 ARJ21 by 2025.

“Relying on its regional advantages in Shanghai, China Eastern established 123 Aviation to start a new journey, which will focus on a market-oriented operation of domestic aircraft,” said the airline in a statement on Sunday. The airline aims at a smooth launch of its first ARJ21, adding its second aircraft after acquiring aircraft operation experience. China Southern also plans to take delivery of 35 ARJ21s by 2024.

Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines have large fleets and extensive route network coverage. The major Chinese airline companies added their first ARJ21s to promote the model for the larger international market and illustrate its usefulness to other potential customers. The Federal Aviation Administration and European Union Aviation Safety Agency have not yet certified the COMAC ARJ121 jet.

Bulent Imat
Bulent Imat
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