The MD-11s enabled China Eastern to expand into long-haul services to Los Angeles and Seattle, via Japan, as well as Bahrain and Brussels. The third aircraft, B-2172, was delivered in May 22 joining its passenger sister B-2171 and pure freighter B-2170. The passenger versions were configured in a 340 seat two-class layout but were equipped so that their internal layout could be easily altered by moving seats, dividers, galleys and lavatories.
The sole freighter was utilised on services from Shanghai to Seattle and Chicago. China Eastern reported 99% dispatch reliability with its MD-11s and added the remaining three aircraft (B-2173-75) up to December 1993. The extra MD-11s enabled China Eastern to expand its routes to include Chicago and Madrid.
It wasn't all success however as on April 6, 1993 B-2171 experienced an inflight emergency en-route from Shanghai to Los Angeles when the pilot accidentally deployed the leading edge slats in cruise. Attempts to correct the aircraft's initial pitching resulted in severe oscillations and a loss of 5,000 foot in altitude. By the time the aircraft was recovered two passengers had been killed and 149 others injured as well as 7 crew members. This was one of six loss of control events by that point with the MD-11 and the investigation revealed several design flaws in cockpit and horizontal stabiliser design as well as crew training. The MD-11s questionable handling characteristics as well as relatively poor economics and performance was no doubt one of the reasons that the types sales were not as McDonnell Douglas had hoped.
Nevertheless China Eastern persisted with the type and did not have any further issues, though no further orders were forthcoming either. The MD-11s were instead joined by 5 A340-300s from May 1996 and in July 1999 China Eastern announced it would begin to convert its MD-11s to all freight configurations using Israel Aircraft Industries to carry out the work. The replacement for the MD-11s chosen was the Airbus A340-600. Two (B-2173 & 74) were converted to freighters in 1999/2000 however the other three remained as passenger aircraft until 2004. All six ended up with China Eastern's joint venture cargo subsidiary China Cargo who operated them until they were retired in 2010/11. The sole original freighter B-2170 has become N950AR and has operated with Sky Lease Cargo since July 16, 2010.
The MD-11 undoubtedly has proven a superior freighter to passenger aircraft and China Eastern wasn't the only Chinese airline to operate them this way. In June 2006 Shanghai Airlines Cargo was established as a joint venture between Shanghai Airlines and Eva Air of Taiwan. The airline’s initial equipment was a trio of Eva Air MD-11 freighters which operated services through the main cargo hubs at Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Osaka, Singapore, Seoul, Bangkok, Anchorage, Chicago and Los Angeles.
B-2176 was delivered to Eva in November 1994 as N103EV and reregistered as B-16103 in May 1999. In 2004 she was the last Eva MD-11 converted to a freighter. She was leased to Shanghai Cargo but following the takeover of Shanghai Airlines by China Eastern the cargo division was merged into China Cargo Airlines. Stored in June 2011 she finally found a new operator in Western Global Air, in August 2014, where she is registered as N415JN.
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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: