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

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By WANG YING in Shang­hai wang_y­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Spe­cial­ist in­put

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.

Seek­ing recog­ni­tion

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.

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