Major order: Tibet Airlines inks deal for 40 C919, 10 ARJ21 aircraft

On Tuesday, Tibet Airlines of China confirmed an order for 40 C919 and 10 ARJ21 aircraft from COMAC, designed for high-altitude plateau operations, making it the inaugural customer for a new variant being developed by the Chinese state-owned aircraft manufacturer. The agreement was signed during the biennial Singapore Airshow, which focuses on both commercial and defense sectors. This follows the announcement in December by Tibet Airlines and COMAC that they would jointly develop a shortened version of the C919, capable of seating 140-160 passengers and operating at high-altitude airports. 


On the same day, the Chinese state-supported Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Group also entered into a contract with COMAC for six versions of the smaller ARJ21 regional jet, specialized for firefighting, medical services, and emergency management. COMAC's C919, on its maiden journey outside China, is in Singapore. The Chinese aircraft manufacturer is promoting the jet as a competitive alternative to the Airbus A320neo and Boeing's 737 MAX single-aisle jet families, as these struggle to meet new aircraft demand and Boeing faces a series of challenges. The aircraft is only certified in China and the first of the now four C919s started operations with China Eastern Airlines last year. As reported by state media in September, COMAC has so far received over 1,000 C919 orders, primarily from Chinese airlines and leasing companies.

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Gao Dongyue, a Tibet Airlines executive, informed Reuters that the development of the C919 high-altitude variant is in progress, but a timeline could not yet be disclosed. He stated, "We have a lot of experience in this area," and added that they are considering all potential routes suitable for the aircraft. Tibet Airlines primarily operates domestic flights but also serves destinations like Kathmandu in Nepal. In September, GallopAir, a newly established airline based in Brunei, announced plans to purchase 30 aircraft from COMAC, including the C919, marking the narrow-body jet's first foreign acquisition. 

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Little information is available about GallopAir, which is expected to be the second airline operator based in Brunei after the national carrier, Royal Brunei Airlines. The company has expressed its intention to offer flights in the East ASEAN growth area, encompassing Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Upon completion, the deal would position GallopAir as the second international operator of Chinese-manufactured aircraft, following Indonesian low-cost carrier TransNusa, which operates a small fleet of ARJ21 regional jets. COMAC also brought the ARJ21 to Singapore for an aerial display. The company began commercial operations for the ARJ21 in 2016 and has so far delivered 127 aircraft.

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