Pork for Planes: Sichuan's TU-154s
The fleet remained at 2 Y-7s until 1990 when another pair were added. It was also 1990 that the airline shook of the shackles of its CAAC persona and adopted its own colours and identity. This livery remains effectively unchanged to this day.
By the early 90s the Soviet Union was on its knees and on December 26, 1991 it was dissolved leaving an independent Russia and a complicated Commonwealth of Independent States. The Soviet economy was a complete mess and Russia was in the unenviable position of struggling to be able to pay for items. China had always been a major trading partner although there was a notable imbalance of trade with the Soviets importing far more than they exported. This complex situation led to some unusual deals between the Russians and others.
Barter deals were certainly not uncommon and one such deal would see the acquisition of the fledgling Sichuan Airlines first jets. I can only think that even the Chinese had well realised the obsolescence of the TU-154M by 1991 but nonetheless four TU-154Ms were acquired new and in return they were paid for with 500 train loads of Pork for the desperate Russians! A more unusual deal I have never heard of - it was literally Pork for planes.
At this time the purchasing of equipment for Chinese Airlines was controlled by a subsidiary of the CAAC called the China Aviation Supply Corporation (CASC) so I suspect Sichuan Airlines management had little say in the matter. China United Airlines also acquired 10 TU-154Ms at the same time (3 were ex-CSA) although whether these were also paid for with meat I don't know. The first TU-154M arrived in Chengdu in late 1991 and the first jet service for Sichuan operated during January 1992 connecting Chengdu with Beijing.
The first trijet was joined by its three comrades plus in late 1993 by a fifth machine which although a 1993 build had served with Aeroflot. Along with 5 Y-7s this formed the carrier's entire fleet into 1995. The route network consisted at the time of 7 routes within Sichuan province and another 36 nationwide.
After effectively 'taking one for the team' Sichuan Airlines was able in late 1995 to skip a generation of aircraft and acquire brand new Airbuses. We will take a look at Sichuan in the later 1990s in part 2.
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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: