China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) is one of the most significant carriers in the country’s commercial aviation market, and one of three major airlines serving China. This year, the state-controlled airline will turn 34.
So, what does the carrier look like today?
Brief history of China Eastern development
Up until 1988, all China’s airlines were centrally organized and known as the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) Airlines. CAAC Airlines started flying in 1953, eventually expanding its fleet and opening international routes to Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and Australia.
But in 1988, CAAC Airlines split into six separate airlines, each named after the geographical region: Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, China Northern, China Southwest, and China Northwest.
During its 33 years in operation, the state-backed airline became one of China’s so-called ‘Big Three’ airlines (China Southern, China Eastern, Air China). In addition, China Eastern was the country’s first airline to be triple listed on the New York, Shanghai, and Hong Kong stock markets in 1997.
The Shanghai-based carrier is currently part of China Eastern Airlines Group, which has a total of seven subsidiaries: CES Leasing, China Cargo Airlines, China Eastern Airlines Executive Air, China United Airlines, OTT Airlines, and Shanghai Airlines.
China Eastern Airlines Group has a total of 752 aircraft in its fleet with an average aircraft age of eight years old, according to a statement from the airline dated February 2022. The group’s fleet largely consists of Airbus-manufactured aircraft, including 358 Airbus A320 family aircraft, 56 Airbus A330s, and 12 Airbus A350 aircraft.
The group’s Boeing-made aircraft fleet comprises 289 Boeing 737 family aircraft, 20 Boeing 777s, and 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. In addition, the group also has a total of seven COMAC ARJ21 regional jets.
According to Airbus orders and deliveries, China Eastern currently has eight Airbus A350-900 aircraft on order.
In March 2021, China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) signed a purchase contract with COMAC to acquire five C919 airliners. China’s new COMAC C919 aircraft deliveries are expected to start in 2022, making the carrier the first operator of C919 aircraft in the world.
Financial and operational data
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) carried more than 130 million passengers in 2019. However, due to setbacks caused by the global health crisis, passenger numbers decreased by almost 50%. In 2020, China Eastern carried a total of 74.3 million passengers. The negative result was attributed to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) announced preliminary financial report for 2021, anticipating a net loss of between 11 billion to 13.5 billion yuan ($1.7 billion to $2.1 billion). In 2020, the carrier posted a net loss of 11.8 billion yuan ($1.9 billion).
The negative financial estimates were largely attributed to low international travel demand, fluctuating passenger traffic on domestic routes, and rising oil prices.