The Harbin-Embraer Aircraft joint manufacturing venture on September 28 delivered the first of 100 airplanes to its biggest Chinese customer, Hainan Airlines Group (HNA) subsidiary Grand China Express. The delivery ceremony, held in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin and attended by Embraer CEO Frederico Curado, AVIC II general manager Hongbiao Zhang and HNA Group chairman Chen Feng, also marked the delivery of the 1,000th customer airplane in Embraer’s ERJ family. Partly owned by billionaire U.S. investor and philanthropist George Soros, HNA placed a firm order for 50 Chinese-made ERJ 145s and 50 Brazilian-built Embraer E-190s in September last year.
Following the ceremony, the milestone ERJ 145 flew directly to Grand China’s base in the port city of Tianjin, China, from where the new regional airline flies a fleet of 29 Fairchild Dornier 328JETs inherited from HNA Group’s core transportation asset, Hainan Airlines. Grand China, the product of the former regional airline assets of Hainan Airlines, Xinhua Air, Chang’an Airlines and Shanxi Airlines, began operations this past May to 54 cities and ranks as the largest regional air carrier in China.
Grand China Express expects to take delivery of all 100 airplanes on order by 2012. According to Chen, the company plans to build a regional network of more than 450 routes linking some 90 cities.
Major competitors include the newly established Kunpeng Airlines and the China Eastern Airlines-AVIC I joint venture scheduled to launch regional services in the western part of the country by next summer. Majority owned by Shenzhen Airlines, Kunpeng began operations from Xi’an on September 28 with a pair of Mesa Air Group Bombardier CRJ200s. Under a deal signed last December to take a 25-percent stake in the venture, Mesa agreed to supply the initial aircraft, pilot training and maintenance support. The airplanes fly six round trips per day serving Taiyuan, Tianjin, Yichang, Hohot, Nanchang, Hefei and Zengzhou. The partners plan to place into service 20 airplanes by next summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing and operate more than 100 airplanes in the 50-, 70- and 90-seat capacity ranges within five years.
Meanwhile, in the less developed western half of the country, China Eastern and AVIC I’s new venture promises a captive market for the 50-seat MA-60 turboprop and the new ARJ21 regional jet, scheduled to enter service with Shandong Airlines in the third quarter of 2009. AVIC I, the giant state-run aerospace and automobile manufacturer, will own 60 percent of the airline while China Eastern takes the rest. AVIC I subsidiary Xi’an Aircraft assembles the MA-60, and the ARJ21 involves no fewer than six major AVIC I units.