Fast-growing regional carrier China Express Airlines has confirmed its strong interest in adding the Bombardier CSeries to its fleet after giving the Canadian manufacturer’s CRJ900 programme a major boost in the run up to the Zhuhai Air Show with an order for 24 of the type.

“We have been in talks with Bombardier since the second half of 2014 about the possibility of introducing the CSeries into the China Express portfolio,” said its president Wu Longjiang, speaking to Flightglobal at the biennial Chinese show.

The eight-year-old privately-owned carrier is also evaluating the Comac C919, Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, but is focusing on its regional operations where the size of the CSeries family in the 100-149-seat range appears more favourable.

“In two or three years we will see which routes have matured where either frequency increases or traffic demand could see us using a bigger jet in place of the CRJ900,” says Wu.

China Express, which currently operates four 50-seat CRJ200s and 11 84-seat CRJ900s, was revealed as the unidentified customer on Bombardier’s books dating back to June for 16 firm CRJ900 orders plus 8 options. The $727 million deal was announced on the occasion of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Beijing on 8 November at an event attended by Chinese president Li Keqiang and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The CRJ900s will be delivered from 2015 through to 2018, says Wu. “When we started we thought the CRJ900 might be too large for the domestic market, but after several years we have found traffic demand growing very fast,” he says. China Express will configure its new CRJ900s with 89-seats, adding an extra five seats compared to its current fleet.

As the airline adds CRJ900s it will dispose of its CRJ200s over the coming six months. The operating economics of the smaller jet are less attractive compared to the CRJ900, says Wu.

China Express already owns two of its four CRJ200s and is negotiating to acquire the remaining two from lessor GECAS before disposing of the entire fleet, explains Wu. The carrier has a potential Chinese buyer for the CRJ200s, he adds.

The airline is also evaluating the possibility of adding the Q400 turboprop to its fleet, says Wu. However, this is a lower priority compared to expanding its jet fleet and there is no timeframe at present for when an order could be placed. “We are conducting an evaluation [of the Q400]. There needs to be an in-depth analysis working through the economics and to make sure there will be customer acceptance [of a turboprop],” says Wu.

Source: Cirium Dashboard