Despite some success at Bombardier, Embraer continued to make sales with its ERJ-145. Indeed it stole a march on Bombardier by signing an agreement in December 2002 for the opening of a ERJ-145 manufacturing joint venture with Harbin Aircraft whereby ERJ-145s were assembled locally by the new company Harbin Embraer. The first two (of an eventual six aircraft - B-3060-63, 65-66) were delivered to China Southern Airlines in June 2004. These aircraft were put into storage in October 2013 but did at least pave the way for a much larger E-190 order.
China Eastern also was seduced by the ERJ-145, despite its Yunnan branch using the CRJ. Its Jiangsu branch purchased 5 aircraft which began deliveries in August 2005. This order was followed by another for 6 from the Wuhan branch in January 2006. At least some of these aircraft remained in service in late 2015.
The last operator of the short CRJ in China was Guiyang based China Express Airlines which began operations in 2006 using 4 ex-Shandong Airlines CRJs. The airline was the first private regional airline in China and unlike all the other CRJ-200 operators a true regional airline. Despite some issues, including a temporary grounding by the CAAC in 2010 following a CRJ wing/runway strike the airline has grown and continues to operate an all CRJ fleet. This is however nowadays an all CRJ-900 fleet with the last CRJ-200 retired on March 29, 2015. This retirement marked the end of CRJ-200 operations in China.
The trend of true regional airlines continued in 2006 when Grand China Express signed a deal for 50 ERJ-145s with Harbin Embraer. In the end not all the ERJs were taken onboard as the HNA Group carrier was deeply unprofitable and was forced to renegotiate its order as part of the refinancing and rebranding that would turn it into Tianjin Airlines in 2009. Even so at least 32 ERJ-145s were delivered to the carrier (including the 1000th ERJ-145) making its regional fleet almost larger than all the other 50 seater fleets combined. Over twenty ERJ-145s remain in service although the airline's focus has now switched to larger regional jets as well as A320s.
The last new airline operator of 50 seaters was Kunpeng Airlines. This was a short-lived joint venture between US regional Mesa Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines which started operations in late 2007 with 5 leased Mesa CRJs. Despite grand plans for 200 aircraft by 2016 by June 2009 Mesa sold its shares and Shenzhen renamed the airline Henan Airlines. All the CRJs were returned to Mesa in April 2009.
With China Eastern and Tianjin Airlines being the only remaining operators of smaller regional jets it appears the days of the 50 seater in China are numbered, even with fuel prices at such lows. With even Tianjin Airlines looking like it will acquire A330s there are also still precious few true regional airlines. Still the larger regional jets have sold better than their smaller brethren and Bombardier and Embraer (as well as Chinese domestic manufacturers) seem to still have massive potential for sales within China, if only they can realise it. In part 3 we'll look at the larger RJs market penetration.
2006, January. CHINA EASTERN AIRLINES WUHAN BUYS FIVE ERJ 145s FROM HARBIN. Embraer.com
2013, October. China Southern retires its ERJ-145 fleet. ch-aviation
2015, March. China Express Airlines ends CRJ-200 operations. ch-aviation
2014, August. China's Shandong Airlines completes retirement of CRJ-200 fleet
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: