The turboprop has had a tough time of it in China where despite the huge increase in the size of the civil aviation market (it is easily the second biggest in the world nowadays) not a single western built turboprop design remains in service. This is partly a reflection of the immaturity of the passenger network within China which has seen dramatic growth of trunk routes with relatively limited growth occurring on regional sectors. Certainly the portion aircraft in the combined fleet is very small, only 6.4%, compared to that of the more mature US market where the same figure is over 24%. The only turboprop still in regular passenger service in China is the Chinese Xian MA-60 which operates in very low numbers primarily with Joy Air and Okay Airways. The type has a dubious safety record and on a level playing field wouldn't be able to compete with the offerings of ATR or Bombardier.
China Xinjiang Airlines was based at Urumqi and serviced the remote Xinjiang region with TU-154s and IL-86s being joined by Boeing 737s and 757s into the late 90s. The airline became the first in China to order from the then Aero International (Regional) consortium in May 1997 when it purchased five ATR-72-210As along with five options during a state visit by the French President Jacques Chirac. The contract was estimated at $80 million. The first aircraft was delivered only three months later on August 30, 1997 and was followed by the other four ordered aircraft through to June 1998. The aircraft were registered B-3022-3023 and 3025-3027. The second aircraft B-3023 was actually the 200th ATR-72 delivered.
The ATRs were deployed on regional routes from Urumqi to destinations like Asku and Hotan as well as tourist routes. Despite several commercial agreements with chinese suppliers, like Xian Aircraft Company, and the oepning of a sales office in Beijing in 2003 ATR's hopes for further sales in China were to be dashed and not only have no further sales been announced but the five options from China Xinjiang were also not exercised. At least ATR can point to Bombardier's similar lack of success - it had sold Q400s to Hainan Airlines but they no longer operate them.
Despite this the ATR's obviously filled a useful role as they remained in service with China Southern until 2011. In August of that year China Southern began to take delivery of the first of 21 Embraer 190 regional jets which replaced the ATRs and have also been used to expand and improve the connectivity of the Xinjiang region. The aircraft portrayed by Gemini jets model is B-3027, the last of the ATR's delivered. She joined Carpatair (in Alitalia colours) in December 2012 as YR-ATR but six months later was leased to JAT as YU-ALT. She transitioned to the Air Serbia fleet in October 2013 where she still serves on lease from Nordic Aviation Capital.
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: