Next month will see Air China celebrate 33 years since commencing operations in July 1988. Today, the airline serves as the Chinese flag carrier, and makes up a third of the country’s ‘big three’ mainland airlines, alongside China Eastern and China Southern.
Its fleet is a diverse affair, featuring narrowbodies and widebodies from both sides of the Airbus-Boeing duopoly. It even has a handful of Chinese-designed planes at its disposal. Let’s take a look at the present state of affairs in terms of the aircraft it operates.
The fleet as a whole
It isn’t easy to decide what stands out more about Air China’s fleet – its size, or its rate of growth. According to data from ch-aviation.com, the Chinese flag carrier’s fleet currently consists of 477 aircraft, of which just 30 are presently inactive. This in itself is an impressive figure, and the result of continuous growth, as seen in the graph below.
When you examine the data regarding deliveries at the airline, it is easy to see how and why its fleet has blossomed so much since the turn of the century. As you can see in the graph below, it has received at least 10 aircraft every year since 2002.
With 2020 representing a considerable drop-off, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is plain to see. Thankfully, we can see that 2021 has got off to a much better start, with the airline trending back towards its pre-COVID delivery rates. But what aircraft does it fly?
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Let’s start by examining which designs from European manufacturer Airbus Air China operates. Overall, it is a strong advocate of the original A320 family, with examples of every variant except the A318 ‘Baby Bus.’ Similarly, it has examples of every next-generation A320neo series variant except the smallest version, which is namely the low-selling A319neo.
The fleet data from our friends at ch-aviation shows that Air China operates 33 A319s with an average age of 15.1 years. Historically speaking, it has operated another three. Moving on to the mid-sized A320, Air China’s fleet boasts 46 with an average age of 8.2 years, as well as 10 historical examples. Finally, it has 63 A321s with an average age of 9.3 years.
In terms of Airbus’s next-generation narrowbodies, Air China’s fleet also boasts 36 A320neos. These have an average age of 1.7 years, and another 16 are to be delivered. It also has 11 examples of the A321neo (average age: 1.9 years) with one more inbound.
Moving on to Airbus’s widebody designs, the most common twin-aisle jet from the European manufacturer at Air China is the A330-200. Air China has 30 of these, with an average age of 12.2 years, and 27 are currently active. It also flies the larger A330-300, with 28 aircraft (plus one historical example) present in the fleet. Their average age is 7.3 years.
At the younger end of the spectrum, Air China also operates 15 next-generation A350-900s. These modern and efficient twinjets have an average age of just 1.9 years, and only one example is presently inactive. 15 more are to be delivered to the Chinese flag carrier.
It’s now time to move on to the other half of the industry-dominating Airbus-Boeing duopoly. We shall start by examining which of the American manufacturing juggernaut’s popular narrowbody designs currently have a presence in Air China’s fleet.
Starting off small (at least relative to what’s to come), the Chinese flag carrier presently has 18 Boeing 737-700s, of which 17 are active. These are among the older aircraft in its fleet, with an average age of 14.9 years. It has also operated a further six historical examples.
Next up is the Boeing 737-800, which is the only aircraft type in Air China’s fleet of which more than 100 examples are present. Overall, the Chinese flag carrier presently operates 124 examples of this design, of which an impressive 122 are active. It has also had a further 50 historical examples of the 737-800. They have an average age of 9.1 years.
The next-generation 737 MAX 8 also has a presence at Air China, albeit on a much smaller scale than its aforementioned predecessor. It has 16 of these aircraft in its fleet, with a further 12 to be delivered. Their average age is just 3.1 years, but they all remain inactive due to ongoing uncertainty regarding when the country will recertify the type for service.
Moving on to Boeing’s twin-aisle designs, Air China presently operates two variants of the legendary 747. The oldest of these are its three 747-400s, which have an average age of 25 years. Historically, it has flown another 11, including five 747-400M combis. Air China is also a rare operator of seven examples of the 747-8, with an average age of 6.5 years.
In terms of Boeing’s twin-engine widebodies, two families are represented at the Chinese flag carrier. The oldest but most common is the 777-300ER, of which it has 28. 26 of these aircraft, which have an average age of 7.2 years, are presently active.
Finally, Air China is also home to 14 examples of the mid-sized Boeing 787-9 ‘Dreamliner,’ of which 11 are currently active. These aircraft have an average age of 4.4 years, and another one is still to be delivered to the Chinese flag carrier. Air China received its first 787 in May 2016, and SeatGuru reports that they have a 293-seat, three-class configuration.
Something a little closer to home
It is quite evident that Airbus and Boeing designs dominate Air China’s fleet. However, that isn’t to say that this duopoly provides every single one of the Chinese flag carrier’s 477 aircraft. Indeed, there are five outliers to this trend from a more local manufacturer.
These five aircraft are examples of the COMAC ARJ21-700, a Chinese-designed regional jet. They are Air China’s newest aircraft, with an average age of just 0.5 years old. They have 90 seats in an all-economy setup. Moving forward, Air China is looking for an increased presence of Chinese aircraft in its fleet, with an order for five COMAC C919s plus 15 options.
What do you ake or Air China’s present fleet? If you’ve flown with the Chinese flag carrier, which of its aircraft is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.