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2 New ARJ21 Operated Routes Link China’s Xinjiang To Central Asia

The launch of the new routes is an example of China’s increasingly deepening ties with Central Asia.

Last week, within just two days, China’s self-developed regional jet ARJ21 completed two breakthrough commercial operations linking China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang with the Central Asian region.

The first commercial operation of the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion

First, on June 6th, the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft completed its first commercial flight, marking the first time a derivative model other than the passenger version of the ARJ21 program entered commercial operation.

The first commercial operation of the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft was by YTO Cargo Airlines, flight number YG9097, which flew from Yining, the capital of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

Regarding the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft completing its first commercial flight, Yang Yang, deputy director of COMAC’s marketing center, stated,

“COMAC has achieved model diversification through series development to meet various market demands to the greatest extent. The first ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft’s maiden commercial flight to Central Asia marks a new achievement in the serialization development of China’s self-developed commercial aircraft.”

According to information released by YTO Cargo Airlines, it will subsequently use the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft to operate regular flights between Yining and Tashkent, supporting the building of an international air route network covering the whole of Asia and reaching Europe.

This ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft was delivered to YTO Cargo Airlines by COMAC on October 30, 2023. It was also the first delivery of the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft to a customer. On the same day, COMAC delivered two ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft to two cargo airlines, one being YTO Cargo Airlines and the other being Air Central from Henan Province.

Photo: YTO Airlines

COMAC officially launched the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion project in May 2020. After independently completing the design plan and obtaining the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Co., Ltd carried out the conversion work.

The ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft has a maximum payload of 10 tons and a design range of 2,778 kilometers, positioning it for cargo transportation on domestic routes within China and short-haul international routes.

Chengdu Airlines’ second ARJ21 international route

Then, on June 7th, Chengdu Airlines launched a commercial route using the ARJ21 aircraft from Kashgar, Xinjiang, to Khujand, Tajikistan.

The ARJ21’s inaugural commercial passenger flight to Central Asia was operated by Chengdu Airlines’ flight EU2977. It departed from Kashgar Laining International Airport (KHG) in Xinjiang and arrived at Khujand International Airport (LBD) in Tajikistan. The total flight distance was approximately 1,628 kilometers, and the flight time was nearly 3 hours.

Photo: FR24 / Su Wu

Wang Yang, the General Manager of Chengdu Airlines’ Xinjiang Operation Base, commented on the new route, saying:

“The launch of this new route will provide more convenient travel options for residents (passengers) of Kashgar and Khujand, further promoting economic and personnel exchanges between Kashgar, Khujand, and surrounding areas, bringing more business opportunities and development prospects to both cities.”

Kashgar is a major city in southern Xinjiang and a concentrated area for the Uyghur ethnic group. It is located in southwestern Xinjiang, serving as a node city in the core area of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Khujand is the second-largest city in Tajikistan and a famous ancient city in Central Asia. Both Kashgar and Khujand were important stops along the ancient Silk Road.

Photo: Kashgar Airport

The Kashgar-Khujand international route launched by Chengdu Airlines is the second international route it has opened using the ARJ21 aircraft. The first international route connects northeastern China with the Russian Far East, flying between Harbin and Vladivostok.

Since its official entry into service on June 28, 2016, the ARJ21 aircraft has safely carried over 13 million passengers.

China strengthens ties with Central Asia

As Russia increasingly needs China’s support in the Russia-Ukraine war, and with China’s growing national strength, China’s influence in the Central Asian region, traditionally part of Russia’s sphere of influence, is deepening.

In May 2023, China held its first China-Central Asia Summit with the five Central Asian nations. This was also the first time in history that China established an independent diplomatic cooperation framework with the five Central Asian countries without Russia’s participation.

On the very same day as the first commercial operation of the ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft, June 6th, another milestone in China-Central Asia cooperation, occurred with the official signing of the agreement for the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project. The leaders of the three countries participated in the signing ceremony via video link. This railway project has been in planning since 1997, taking 27 years from conception to the signing of the agreement.

Source: Simple Flying