Okay Airways began operations with a single Boeing 737-9B5 leased from Korean Air making it the first airline in China to operate the longest 737. The 737 registered B-5110 had originally been delivered as HL7569 in January 2001. Despite this the airline's start was not smooth. Originally Korean Air and another South Korean company were to take a 49% share in the new airline but this fell through and the 737-900 was returned to Korea in April 2006, being replaced by a leased 737-400. The series 400 also didn't last long and instead a pair of 737-800s arrived on lease from ILFC in March 2006. These were joined by a 737-500 in November 2006. Okay Airways leased three Boeing 737-300F aircraft and started cargo services as a local partner of FedEx Express in March 2007.
China's new private airlines found the market tough for a number of reasons (pilot shortages, lack of management experience, airport congestion and protectionism towards incumbents amongst others) and the majority of the new start-ups had failed by 2010 or been forced to change their identities as they were bailed out by new government shareholders. Okay Airways persevered until December 15, 2008 when mounting losses and management disagreements forced it to suspend its services. Fortunately it was able to restart its 20 passenger routes after one month on January 24, 2009.
Since this time Okay Airways has been able to grow steadily with the addition of 737-800s so that by January 2015 13 leased examples were in service and the airline was able to accept delivery of its first 737-900ER direct from Boeing. It is configured in a 200 seat one class cabin configuration and will be followed by 7 further 737-900ERs. The airline has also developed its regional fleet and now operates 13 of Xian's 'Modern Ark' MA-60 turboprops. This makes it the largest operator of the type in the world. The airline has also signed several co-operation agreements with banks development agencies and aircraft manufacturers. Along with Joy Air it is to be the launch customer for the prospective MA-700 scheduled to fly for the first time in 2017.
The airline in 2014 also setup regional branches in Hunan and Xian and has additionally developed international tourist routes to destinations in Thailand (like Bangkok and Krabi) from all three of its major destinations. In 2014 3.9 million passengers were carried by the airline. It appears that Okay has survived its difficult formative years and has begun to find a niche for itself in the ever growing Chinese market-place.
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: