In the latest of our What It’s Like To Work For series, we profile China Express Airlines, one of the country’s new breed of fast-growing private regional carriers. The Chongqing-based airline was formed in 2006. It has a mixed fleet of 14 Airbus A320s, 38 Bombardier CRJs, and COMAC ARJ21s. It took delivery of its first ARJ21 in November, making it the country’s latest operator of the domestically-built regional jet. It has committed to take at least 50 examples through 2025.
From our establishment, China Express has been focusing on a developing area of China. At that time, public transport was not convenient enough, so people in smaller cities and towns had difficulties travelling. We were set up to help meet the travel needs of local citizens, and we concluded that the CRJ900 was the right choice for short-range flights with frequent take-offs and landings.
With the development of the economy, the regional market in China has grown and numbers of passengers have been increasing. So in 2018, we introduced the A320 to give us more capacity than the CRJ900. The Airbus narrowbody also gives us more options in the structure of our network, and abundant operational experience of the A320 throughout the world helps us maintain a good level of safe operation.
In 2020, we introduced our first two ARJ21s, which have performed successfully so far. Their addition will further support our capacity plans. We will make use of the operational experience from the CRJ900s to help build the domestic civil aircraft ecosystem and accelerate the security of our national supply chain.
We created a new operational pattern called institutional purchase capacity. This means China Express signs agreements with local governments, airports and other organisations who buy passenger capacity on flights. This helps cultivate the regional aviation market and create a win-win for airlines, local governments and passengers.
In 2008, we also introduced connecting flights, by cooperating with trunk route airlines to offer services such as luggage straight to destination, worry-free flight change, special guide services at connecting airports, and so on. By the end of 2020, China Express had connected more than 20,000 passengers on domestic trunk routes and international services.
Chongqing to Aksu (a city in the west of China), which is a 4.5h flight.
There are 762 pilots in China Express Airlines, 22 of them foreigners.
At present, China’s Covid-19 prevention and control is effective and stable and domestic traffic has almost completely returned to 2019 levels. When the global pandemic is stabilized and the health of the aviation industry improves, we will certainly follow the trend of development, which will mean the recruitment of excellent foreign pilots.
We prefer native English speakers with lots of flying experience, who also understand the characteristics of the operating environment in China. The country’s aviation market is huge and has great potential for development and those who fully understand and abide with CAAC [the civil aviation authority of China] regulations will get better career development.
In terms of qualifications, a captain must have a US, Canadian or EASA licence and must have over three years’ experience, 2,700 hours total flying time, and 1,000 pilot-in-command hours on type for a Part-21 operation. They should have a valid class one medical and ideally be under 50.
We have two in Chongqing and 20 in Gui Yang and Huhhot (in Inner Mongolia) – the last two are beautiful cities with fresh air and amazing scenery. One of our foreign pilots who has lived several years in Chongqing with his family said of the city: “We love Chongqing because it is a blend of modern and traditional China. We could be walking down an alley and see traditional buildings and restaurants, and then emerge to see an amazing skyline of buildings lit up to create a show. We also enjoy the food. The taste of the spice in Chongqing is special and unique.”
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