Nicholas Ionides/ATI

The world's top regional jet (RJ) makers have cracked two important markets over the past six months - China and Japan - leading to hopes that the sales success of RJs in the USA and Europe may now be spreading to Asia.

Fairchild was the first, with a deal late in August 1999 for at least 19 of its 328JETs from China's fast-growing Hainan Airlines. First delivery took place in November 1999.

Upon acceptance of the aircraft, Hainan became China's first carrier to operate scheduled RJ services. Hainan, based in Haikou, Hainan Island, will take the firm-ordered aircraft through August 2001. It also holds options on an additional 20.

Soon after the deal was announced, Shandong Airlines ordered five Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) Series 200s from Bombardier. Although China United Airlines already operates five of the type, they are exclusively for VIP operations. Ji'nan-based Shandong is due to become the first Chinese carrier to operate CRJs on scheduled revenue services.

Not to be left out, Embraer in mid-December announced a sale to Sichuan Airlines of five ERJ-145s, together with options on a further five. Deliveries of the 50-seat jets are scheduled to begin in April 2000.

The deals have been described as ground-breaking by all three manufacturers, because although China has more than 30 airlines only a handful operate small aircraft and until recently none has operated RJs on scheduled services.

A similar situation has existed in Japan until recently, when Bombardier struck a breakthrough deal to sell two CRJ-200s to Japan Airlines subsidiary J-Air. A separate CRJ deal was later agreed with start-up carrier Fair Inc.

Hiroshima-based J-Air will take delivery of its CRJ-200s in November this year and in March next year, putting both into service on its 12-point route network in April 2001. The carrier has also taken options on three more of the type.

New-start Fair, meanwhile, plans to start services with its CRJs from the middle of this year. Four will be operated - two CRJ-100s bought from Lauda Air and two CRJ-200s purchased directly from Bombardier.

The first ex-Lauda aircraft is to be delivered in May, followed by the second in November or December. The aircraft from Bombardier will be delivered in May and June 2002.

Jun Okawara, Fair's president and chief executive officer, says he expects Japan's deregulation to lead to the operation of more RJs, adding that he is "quite sure the same kind of phenomenon" seen in the USA will spread to Japan.

Bombardier seems to agree. Steven Ridolfi, president of Bombardier Aerospace Regional Aircraft, says: "We have seen tremendous success in the North American and European markets with the Canadair Regional Jet while our market forecast points to an increasingly important market in the Asia-Pacific region - most notably in Japan."

Source: Flight Daily News