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2020-06-29 08:33:46

China’s three major state-owned air carriers on Sunday received deliveries of dozens of domestically manufactured ARJ21 regional jets, marking an important milestone in the country’s aviation history.

Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and China Southern Airlines will become the largest carriers to operate the 90-seater single-aisle aircraft four years after its maiden flight, the plane’s manufacturer, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), said Sunday.

According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, Air China will use the ARJ21 to fly to Inner Mongolia and China Southern to fly to cities in its home province of Guangdong. China Eastern, meanwhile, has yet to announce specific routes for the aircraft.

“Today’s delivery is a watershed moment in the four years of the ARJ21’s commercial service,” Li Guijin, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China, told aviation news forum Carnoc.com. “It has opened a new era — an era where the supply of regional jets in China accelerates at an unprecedented pace.”

The ARJ21 is China’s first homemade aircraft to enter commercial service, along with the forthcoming 168-seater C919, which is designed to rival Boeing’s 737 aircraft series. The domestically manufactured jets are seen as China’s answer to the current duopoly in the international aviation sector, with American and European plane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus together controlling over 90% of the global market share.

The ARJ21 represents a strategic step toward fulfilling the Chinese government’s goal of ushering in a “moderately prosperous society,” COMAC said in a 2017 statement. The domestically produced aircraft serve the dual purpose of announcing China’s entry into the global aviation manufacturing market and connecting far-flung, relatively impoverished parts of the country with major economic hubs.

Chengdu Airlines, the first air carrier to add ARJ21s to its fleet, has been using the aircraft to fly to remote destinations in Inner Mongolia. China Eastern plans to use a fleet entirely comprising domestically made planes including the ARJ21 for its recently unveiled regional subsidiary, One Two Three (OTT) Airlines, which will fly along the Yangtze River Delta and surrounding areas.

COMAC is marketing the ARJ21 as an economically viable alternative to the country’s smaller regional carriers: One plane is priced at $38 million, compared with $61 million for a Brazilian rival, the Embraer 190. By the end of 2019, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern had confirmed a combined order of 105 ARJ21s to be delivered by 2025, while the Chongqing-based China Express Airlines announced an order of 100 ARJ21s earlier this month.

Aviation industry analysts say that manufacturing jets and putting them into service will not only help China’s ailing aviation sector — one of the industries most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — but also boost domestic travel by making the country more connected.

“As China enters a new phase of containing COVID-19 to restart the economy, the future of international travel remains uncertain,” Qi Qi, an associate professor at Guangzhou Civil Aviation College, told Carnoc.com. “The Civil Aviation Administration of China recently offered guidance … to fill the gaps of suburban markets that have yet to be connected by high-speed rail.”

Editors: Bibek Bhandari and David Paulk.

(Header image: A COMAC-manufactured ARJ21 regional jet arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport, June 28, 2020. People Visual)