New China Eastern Subsidiary Will Only Operate COMAC Aircraft

China Eastern Airlines unveiled its new subsidiary in Shanghai Wednesday, saying that it would only operate Chinese aircraft. While talking about its new regional airline on Chinese social media site Weibo, China Eastern said that OTT Airlines would be the first carrier to operate Commercial Aircraft Corp of China’s COMAC C919.

Comac C919 OTT Airlines
OTT will be the first airline to get the C919. Photo: Getty

China Eastern is the nation’s second-largest airline by passenger numbers after China Southern Airlines and was initially slated as being the first airline to receive the C919 when it is certified.

OTT Airlines will operate in the Yangtze River Delta

OTT Airlines, which means “one two three”, will operate domestic passenger flights in the Yangtze River Delta and nearby regions using Chinese made ARJ21 and C919 aircraft.

In a press release from China Eastern carried by Xinhuanet, the airline explained the thought behind the name by saying:

“OTT can be understood as ‘on time travel,’ meaning that the journey is always on time. It can also be understood as ‘over top travel,’ implying that we will offer an incomparable flight experience to customers.”

Designed to rival the new generation Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320, the twin-engine C919 can seat up to 168 passengers and has a range of 4,075 kilometers (2,532 miles).

The C919 has faced numerous problems

Currently undergoing test flights with the first six prototypes, the C919 has been under development since 2008. Over the years, it’s has had a host of problems that now look to delay the aircraft’s introduction into service until sometime between 2021 and 2022. Previously the company said that they hoped to have started delivering the aircraft to airlines by the end of 2020.

Comac C919
The CFM LEAP-1C engine is a joint venture between GE and Safran. Photo: Getty

The latest blunder appears to be a mathematical error. COMAC engineers miscalculated the force that would be put on the engines during flight and sent the wrong figures to engine manufacturer CFM International. Four people familiar with the design of the engine told Reuters that the engine and its housing may now both need to be reinforced at the expense of COMAC.

Other issues in the development of the aircraft have included cracks found in the horizontal stabilizers and a gearbox in the engines that were susceptible to cracking due to unexpected vibrations.

China lacks experience when it comes to commercial aircraft

These delays go to show that despite China’s ability to put a man into space, they still lack experience when it comes to manufacturing commercial aircraft. While the delays to the C919 program are somewhat of an embarrassment for China, the fact that they are taking their time to ensure that the aircraft is safe is only a good thing.

Just look at the situation Boeing has got itself into by rushing the 737 MAX and you can understand why the Chinese want to make sure they have got it right and that the C919 will be a safe and reliable aircraft.

The ARJ21 is a Chinese made turbo-fan regional passenger jetliner. Photo: Getty

Now on to the other aircraft OTT Airlines will operate, the 78-90 seat ARJ21 turbo-fan regional passenger jetliner. Having entered service with Chengdu Airlines in June of 2016, the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 look-alike will be delivered to OTT Airlines later this year.

Other than the silly name, OTT Airlines which could also stand for “over the top” and other Chinese regional carriers will almost certainly be used as a customer base for COMAC built aircraft, which if nothing else, will guarantee the Chinese manufacturer sales.

What are your thoughts on this new airline and the C919? Please let us know in the comments.