Indeed until fairly recently most of the Chinese majors weren't operating true hub systems anyway and certainly nothing on the scale of the sort of interline scheduled super-hubs as scene in the USA. In the States the need for regional feed to assist in filling the banks of hub traffic have been one of the major initiators of a regional revolution, which began in the 1980s and was kicked into overdrive by the arrival of the small 50 seat regional jet.
In May 2014 2,216 airliners were in service in China with 81% being narrowbodies of which the 737 and A320 families had the lion’s share (about 39.9% and 39.1% respectively). Interestingly unlike in the USA regional aircraft types made up a very small percentage (6.4%) of the combined fleet highlighting how much potential growth there still remains on thinner routes. This is especially evident when comparisons are made to the United States (still the world’s largest market but likely to be overtaken by China by 2030) where only 46% of aircraft are narrowbodies compared to 24% regional jets.
That is not to say however that regional jets have been absent from China - just that where they are operated they have tended to be so by the mainline airlines themselves and in small numbers. The first regional jets operated in China (not counting BAE 146s) were not Bombardier or Embraer types but instead 32 seater Fairchild Dornier Do328JETs. Hainan Airlines took delivery of the first of 30 in December 1999. They gradually transitioned over to Hainan's regional subsidiary Grand China Express from 2007 but didn't last long following the troubled regional's rebranding as Tianjin Airlines. Most, if not all, seemed parked up by 2010.
The first 50 seater regional jets delivered to China were to Chengdu based Sichuan Airlines as late as September 21, 2000. Sichuan became the first Chinese company to operate an Embraer aircraft when it acquired five ERJ-145s beginning with B-3040. Sichuan province is the home of the Panda and the new ERJs were decaled with Pandas under the cockpit windows. The five Embraers were not added to even though Sichuan Airline's fleet grew from 12 aircraft in 2002 to 94 in January 2015. Instead they remained in service until late 2011 when they were sent to Shijiazhuang based Hebei Airlines in which Sichuan had just taken a majority stake. It appears the 50 seaters didn't remain with Hebei for very long and were replaced by larger E190s.
Following on only a month later the first Bombardier CRJs entered service in China, in October 2000, with Shandong Airlines. The fleet grew to 11 aircraft but again though Shandong has quadrupled in size the CRJ component has decreased with all the CRJ-200s gone by August 2014. Only two months later another CRJ operator started ops with CRJ-200s in China. This was Shanghai Airlines, who acquired just 3 aircraft (B-3018, 3020, 3011) from December 5, 2000. Two ex-Maersk Air / Duo CRJ-200LRs (B-3075 and 7698) were added in 2004. After nearly 13 years of service the last Shanghai CRJ operated on October 26, 2013, between Lianyungang and Shanghai. Though Shandong did take a few larger CRJs neither airline's fleet nowadays contains any regional jets.
China Yunnan Airlines took delivery of 6 CRJ-200ERs from November 2001. Five of these transferred to China Eastern when it acquired China Yunnan's assets and lasted until April 2013 when they were retired by the then China Eastern Yunnan Airlines arm of the company. They had been used to operate a thrice-daily air bus service between smaller cities like Baoshan, Lincang and Zhaotong as well as open routes to Chongqing, Tianjin and other destinations. They even in 2002/03 were used to open international services from Kunming to Mandalay and Rangoon.
In part 2 we'll look at how the battle between Embraer and Bombardier developed in the 2000s.
Ge, L. November 2013. Shanghai Airlines Retires Its CRJ Fleet. China Aviation Daily
Zhang, E. April 2013. China Eastern Yunnan Airlines Retires Its CRJ Fleet. China Aviation Daily
2000, September. EMBRAER DELIVERS FIRST JET TO CHINA'S SICHUAN AIRLINES. Embraer.com
2001, October. Bombardier Delivers First Two GECAS CRJ200 Aircraft To Be Operated By Shandong Airlines Of China. defense-aerospace.com
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: