Pilots ready to believe in a jet plane
After three major airlines received their first ARJ21s, the China-made jet is ready to cement its reputation
With over 25 years in the aviation industry and 17,800 flying hours under his belt, pilot Zhang Daqi is eager to take on the biggest challenge of his career.
The 48-year-old is among the initial batch of pilots chosen by China Eastern Airlines subsidiary OTT to fly the ARJ21, the first regional passenger jet designed and made in China.
“The ARJ21 has a dual attraction for me,” Zhang said. “It is the ambition of every Chinese pilot to fly a Chinese-made aircraft. Being one of the latest aircraft models, it also appeals to every pilot who loves both a challenge and change.”
Zhang said it had taken him two months to qualify to fly the new passenger jet.
One Two Three Airlines was launched by China Eastern Airlines in February and announced it will use China-made aircraft, including the ARJ21 and the narrow-body C919 aircraft, which is still undergoing testing.
Eight of OTT’s pilots have already qualified to operate the ARJ21, according to Zhang.
Apart from commercial airliners, Zhang has flown business jets such as Gulfstreams and modified Boeing 737s.
He compared business jets to luxury vehicles like BMWs and Audis and regional passenger jets to public transportation. Zhang said typical regional passenger jets presented pilots with a greater challenge as they were usually less sophisticated aircraft, but the ARJ21 was different.
“I was a bit anxious before the training, as I used to fly business jets. But to my surprise, our regional jets are fitted with state-of-the-art equipment,” Zhang said.
Spreading its wings
When the ARJ21 goes into widespread commercial operation it will prove a major boost for the nation’s aircraft manufacturing industry, as well as improve regional air services, experts said.
Both the ARJ21 and C919 have been developed and manufactured by the State-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China in accordance with international standards.
China’s top three airlines — Air China, China Eastern Airlines and
China Southern Airlines — each received delivery of their first ARJ21s on Sunday.
All three are expected to each receive two more of the short-haul jets, which seat 78-90 passengers, by the end of the year.
The ARJ21 has already been put into operation by smaller carriers, including Chengdu Airlines and Jiangxi Air. Since 2015, COMAC has delivered 32 ARJ21s to its clients. The aircraft has operated from 55 Chinese cities and flown more than 890,000 passengers.
Xie Yuanzheng, a flight instructor with COMAC and former China
Eastern pilot, has witnessed firsthand the development of Chinese aircraft.
In 2009, Xie declined a job offer from a private commercial aviation firm, and joined COMAC as a flight instructor and consultant on design and control systems.
Xie, who has 41 years’ experience in the industry and 24,000 flying hours, suggested getting pilots to give input to the C919 design team to broaden its perspective.
The three major carriers also sent engineers to make suggestions on the manufacturing of the ARJ21.
Lin Zhijie, an aviation industry analyst and columnist at carnoc, one of China’s biggest civil aviation websites, said the three airlines will offer suggestions on maintenance, operating systems and technology as the passenger jet undergoes refinement.
By 2025, the three major airlines are expected to each have 35 ARJ21s operating in their fleets.
Zhang hopes to take part in the passenger jet’s development and have the opportunity to fly it in all conditions. “Our (pilots’) flying experience will help the jet fly higher and improve its stability,” he said.
Xu Tengzehui is the daughter of a pilot and hopes to fulfill her father’s dream and fly a “homegrown” aircraft.
The 29-year-old joined China Eastern in 2014, and is currently a co-pilot with OTT.
“My father is about to reach retirement age and now I’m about to take the relay baton. I hope to turn my father’s dream into reality,” she said.
“I believe a China-made aircraft can not only gain full recognition from Chinese pilots, but also become known across the world,” Xie said.
Chen Zhuo, a senior analyst with China Merchants Securities who specializes in the aviation industry, also believes China’s aircraft manufacturers can prove themselves internationally.
“The development of Chinesemanufactured aircraft could be very much like that of high-speed railways. After we master the sophisticated technologies and apply them successfully in domestic operations, we can introduce the aircraft overseas like we’ve done with our highspeed railway projects,” Chen said.
Xie, the consultant, is optimistic that COMAC can one day rival established aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing.
Zhang Daqi prepares to fly an ARJ21 airplane of One Two Three Airlines in Shanghai.
Xu Tengzehui expects to fly a China-made aircraft, as a co-pilot with OTT.