Tag Archives: airlines

China’s Strong Airline Safety Record Is Tragically Interrupted

Graphic showing sudden descent of China Eastern Airlines' Flight MU 5735 on March 21, 2022. Source: FlightRadar 24.

THERE ARE NO reports of survivors from the Kunming to Guangzhou flight that plunged into a forested hillside near Wuzhou in Guanxi on Monday afternoon with 123 passengers and nine crew on board. Nor, as of Tuesday, had any bodies been recovered, according to state media.

China’s first fatal civil aviation accident in more than a decade has understandably caused widespread shock.

Some 2,000 rescuers who have reached the mountainous district are searching for the aircraft’s flight-data cockpit-voice recorders, assisted by drones. Aviation experts hope the ‘black boxes’ will reveal the cause of the tragedy. However, the high speed of impact may have destroyed them. (Update: At least one of the black boxes has been found, authorities said on March 23.)

The airliner involved, a Boeing 737-800 that was less than seven years old, and the airline, China Eastern Airlines, have strong safety records.

It is too early to speculate on the cause of the accident. Yet, the aircraft essentially nosediving into the ground from a cruising altitude of around 9,000 metres, as shown in the graphic above from the flight-tracking website, FlightRadar 24, suggests an extraordinarily untoward incident, rather than the sort of design problem that caused the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) will handle the investigation. As the aircraft was US-made, the US National Transportation Safety Board has appointed an investigator for the crash. It will assist the CAAC, ‘if asked’.

China Eastern has grounded its Boeing 737-800s fleet. Of the more than 4,200 of the aircraft in service worldwide, Chinese airlines account for 1,177. The CAAC has urged an immediate two-week-long safety overhaul of civil aviation.

Since the unsafe flying days of the 1980s and 1990s, China’s civil aviation had become remarkably safe thanks to investment in new aircraft and strict safety rules imposed after two flights crashed within a month in 2002, with a combined loss of 234 lives.

Last month, the CAAC said that Chinese airlines had set a world record on February 19 by operating without a major accident for 100 million flying hours, stretching back to August 2010 when a Henan Airlines flight from Harbin crashed on approach to the airport in Yichun in Heilongjiang province.

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Filed under Environment, Politics & Society, Transport

New ABC Of Aerospace

The C919, a 190-seat commercial jet, won’t take to the air for at least half a decade, and not enter service for at least a couple of years after that, but it will be the largest home-built airliner to be constructed in China, and will mark a significant advance for an industry Beijing has earmarked as a national champion and global competitor. Models of the plane, to be built by Shanghai-based Comac, an acronym for Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China and part of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp. of China (Avic), have gone on show in Hong Kong. (It was announced in March.)

Comac already builds a 90-seat jet, the ARJ-21, for which it says it has around 200 orders on its books. The new jet liner is potentially competitive bad news down the road for Airbus and Boeing, the two global aerospace giants who see the Chinese market as one of their great hopes for the future, and whose A320 and 737 models now dominate the regional jet section of the market. The overall Chinese market for commercial aircraft is forecast to expand fivefold over the next 20 years. That means orders for more than 2,000 aircraft to scrap over, as China expands it aerospace industry’s focus from military to civilian. Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines can all be expected to do their patriotic duty.

It would be rash to assume that the Chinese plane maker will stay third in the trinity of Airbus, Boeing and Comac. Equally, the challenge shouldn’t be underestimated. Comac is starting from scratch, having been set up only last year with the purpose of developing China’s first airliners. It has given itself eight to 10 years to develop the C919, compared to the six it typically takes the more practiced Airbus or Boeing. It will need to rely on foreign-made engines, avionics and other components for its early models as it learns to build its own, and perfects its aviation grade aluminum and composites. It will also have to learn how to get its airliners internationally certified if it wants global sales. The ARJ-21 isn’t yet certified in the U.S. for example.

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Filed under Industry

A View From 30,000 Feet

There is an interview, worth reading if somewhat rambling, with Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive Tony Tyler by Raphael Minder in the FT.

The main news: Tyler also says that Cathay is minded to fund a renewed bid by Air China, in which it has a stake, for China Eastern Airlines following Air China’s rejection of a tie up with Singapore Air. This would boost Cathay’s presence in Shanghai.

Other highlights: it is too early to say what effect the recent severe winter weather will have on airlines’ P&L but there will be a hit that will hurt any airline lacking a padding of cash; China is a tough market for airlines (low yields, fierce competition, seasonal traffic); and the Beijing Olympics will kill this summer’s business travel market, more than offsetting the boost to tourism.

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Filed under Economy, Markets