Bombardier is hoping that the emergence of new independent airlines in China will help it generate sales for its commercial aircraft.

The central government is allowing new airline players to enter the market, says Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP of sales for China and Asia Pacific Andy Solem, adding that Bombardier’s discussions with these start-ups have been going well.

Emergence of new independent carriers such as 9 Air, Qingdao Airlines and Ruili Airlines comes after a long-period of consolidation in which the ‘big four’ – Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines – took over many of the small independent airlines. Consolidation occurred because the smaller airlines in the last decade were losing money, so the idea was to merge these businesses with the larger, more profitable airlines, says Solem.

But the big four carriers are based in China’s eastern coastal area, so this meant development of commercial aviation in other parts of China was hampered, he says. The government tried to address the imbalance by encouraging the ‘big four’ to launch air services in the less populated western parts of China, but it was difficult to achieve because the airlines were already operating their aircraft profitably in the eastern parts of China and it was hard getting pilots to relocate to western China, says Solem.  

The Central Government, however, now sees the establishment of small, independent airlines – outside of the main metros – as a way to bring about development of air services in other parts of China, says Solem.

Bombardier anticipates that some of these new start-ups will seek to replicate the business model of Trans States Airlines of the U.S., which has contracts with the U.S. majors to provide feeder services on a payment per take-off and landing basis.

Solem says China Express, which is based in Guiyang city, is adopting this business model. The carrier, which started in 2006 and avoided the earlier consolidation, operates CRJ200s and CRJ900s. The other CRJ operator in China is Shandong Airlines, which was independent but later taken over by Air China.

Shanghai Airlines, which is now part of China Eastern Airlines, also had CRJ aircraft, but Solem says the carrier is no longer operating them.