Initially, as in the 50 seat category, it was Bombardier that made the running. Shandong Airlines acquired two new 70 seater CRJ-700ERs registered B-3079 and B-3080 from November 2003. Both aircraft remained in the fleet into late 2015, operating regularly into Qingdao and Tianjin, but even though Shandong has expanded dramatically over the past 12 years building a fleet of over 70 Boeing 737s no further CRJs have been added. Both aircraft are apparently soon scheduled to join Qingdao Airlines in which Shandong has a stake.
No further 70 seater regional jets have been operated by Chinese airlines - though Hong Kong Express did briefly operate a few Embraer 170s. Instead after quite a delay when new regional jet aircraft came back into favour in China it was the larger 90 seater range of regional jets that were purchased. Overwhelmingly the winner of orders has been the Embraer 190 though even so compared to sales in the USA numbers purchased have been relatively small.
Embraer's offerings have no doubt been massively helped by its relationship with Embraer Harbin, however unlike for the smaller ERJ-145 the Chinese government has been reluctant to allow license production of the larger E-Jets inside China. Instead it has focused on producing its own competing design - the much delayed, and widely derided Comac ARJ21-700 Xiangfeng. Nevertheless the larger E-Jets gained certification in China in May 2008 with the first delivery to China Grand Express on May 20. As related in part 1 China Grand Express experienced serious growth pains and was forced to cutback its orders before being renamed Tianjin Airlines, however today it is still easily the largest regional in China and the EMB-190 is the primary member of the fleet. Currently it has 49 EMB-190s and 3 EMB-195s on strength. Eight of the EMB-190s have been leased to a Tianjin joint venture subsidiary named Guangxi Beibu Gulf Airlines (or GX Airlines) which began services in February 2015.
The second operator of the EMB-190 in China was Kunpeng Airlines. As related in part 1 this was renamed Henan Airlines following the departure of its former joint owner Mesa Airlines. It received 5 E190s from September 2008. Unfortunately this airline seems to have been dogged with controversy and on August 24, 2010 it suffered the ignominy of crashing the first E-Jet in the world when Flight 8387 was destroyed on landing in fog at night at Yichun Lindu. The airline was subsequently grounded and Henan province was keen to see it stop operating under the name and return to being Kunpeng Airlines. It appears that the mess has effectively stopped the airline's operations and it remains in limbo at the present time.
Bombardier's only response to Embraer has been success at China Express Airlines, which was already a CRJ-200 operator. Since July 2012 they have been building up an impressive fleet of CRJ-900LRs which now numbers 20 aircraft with a further 18 on order.
A major success for Embraer came in January 2011 when China Southern announced it would lease 10 Embraer 190s (subsequently increased to 20). The first aircraft was delivered to China’s CDB Leasing Co (CLC) in August 2011 with 7 aircraft in service by year end. The EMB-190s were initially ordered to operate from Urumqi, in the mountainous Xinjiang province, as part of the government’s initiative to develop the Western provinces’ economies. B-3218 was the last of the E190s to be delivered and is a regular visitor to the airline’s Guangzhou hub but has been seen as far afield as Manila.
The next new operator of E-Jets in China (aside from GX Airines) was Hebei Airlines. It received a pair of EMB-190s in December 2011 as the first of an order of ten E-Jets. They were to be used to build a network of scheduled flights from Hebei’s hub at Shijiazhuang Zhengding Airport. The E190s are configured with six premium cabin seats and 92 main cabin seats. Hebei Airlines growth hasn't been as quick as it would have liked and only the first 4 E-190s arrived to July 2013 with the 5th not being delivered until October 2015. At the present time the fleet remains at 5 EMB-190s alongside smaller ERJ-145s and larger 737s.
To date there is only one other operator of large regional jets in China - Colorful Guizhou Airlines. I will delay discussing them however in anticipation of the future JC Wings release if it ever sees the light of day.
There still appears plenty of room for more regional jets in the Chinese market, however the Chinese Comac ARJ-21 has apparently seriously muddied the waters. The first production aircraft was scheduled to enter service at the end of June with Chengdu Airlines after years of delays. On paper there appear to be hundreds of orders for the almost DC-9 derivative, yet it would be surprising if more than a fraction enter service given the massive delays and alleged performance issues. Regardless the potential for regionals in China appears large and only time will tell which aircraft can fill that gap effectively be it foreign or Chinese built.
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: