China Eastern to operate C919’s first international commercial flight

N509FZ / Wikimedia Commons

Chinese commercial aircraft manufacturer COMAC will mark a further milestone in the development of its C919 narrowbody jet on June 1, 2024, when an aircraft operated by China Eastern Airlines will operate the type’s first commercial flight outside of mainland China.  

On that date, China Eastern will deploy one of its six C919s on a commercial charter flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai. According to the SkyTeam carrier, the flight will carry Hong Kong college students on an exchange program with their Shanghai counterparts. This will be the first time that a C919 has operated a revenue-generating international flight since entering service with the carrier in May 2023.  

The milestone comes as C919 gains international momentum, increasing its exposure across global aviation. Since its appearance at the Singapore Airshow in February 2024, plus an earlier appearance at a demonstration event in Hong Kong in November 2023, the narrowbody is gradually raising its profile.  

A C919 demonstrator also completed a tour around various Southeast Asian nations (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia) earlier in 2024, stirring up interest from various airlines who have expressed an interest in the aircraft and its capabilities.  

N509FZ / Wikimedia Commons

Driven by the overseas interest currently being shown in its C919, COMAC has also enjoyed domestic success with the type so far in 2024. In April 2024, China’s other two large airlines, Air China and China Southern, each ordered 100 jets, adding to the planemaker’s backlog of orders. In addition to those orders, smaller carriers such as Hainan Airlines, Urumqi Air, Tibet Airlines, and Suparna Airlines have placed firm orders for the aircraft.  

The COMAC C919 is pitched directly onto a highly competitive playing field, up against its Western rivals the Boeing 737 MAX family and the Airbus A320neo family, both of which have order backlogs of several years resulting from the surge in demand following the pandemic. These backlogs are making carriers explore other more readily available alternatives, one of which is the C919.     

In all, COMAC holds around 1,000 firm orders for the C919, with a further 700 options being held for its 156 to 168-seater short-haul jet. 

The announcement that China Eastern will be sending one of its C919s overseas on a commercial flight for the first time came just as the carrier took delivery of its sixth C919 aircraft, registered B-919G. On May 28, 2024, the latest aircraft flew the short distance from Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport (SHA) where it was formally accepted by representatives from China Eastern Airlines.  

This aircraft also happens to be the first of 100 C919s that the carrier ordered in September 2023, following the delivery of its initial batch of five which began in May 2023.  

“The delivery marks the comprehensive acceleration of the large-scale and large-fleet commercial operation of the domestically produced C919,” said China Eastern in a statement. 

S5A-0043 / Wikimedia Commons

Since it entered into airline service with China Eastern on May 28, 2023, C919s have carried almost 300,000 passengers and have completed more than 6,000 flight hours. According to the carrier, over 2,100 incident-free flights have been completed with an average load factor of around 80%.  

Expanding its fleet further in the coming months, the airline is expected to take delivery of four more C919s throughout the remainder of 2024, bringing its fleet to 10 examples by the start of 2025. The company currently deploys its C919 fleet on Chinese domestic trunk routes, including flights from Shanghai to Chengdu, Beijing, and Xian.  

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